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Employment Contract Rights – The Exception To At-Will Hiring

Generally, U.S. workers are familiar with the concept of at-will employment, namely that anyone hired “at will” may be discharged with or without cause. Fewer people are familiar with employment contract, or with the fact that they effectively act as an exception to the at-will doctrine. If you have a written employment contract between you and your employer, you may have protections that you are unaware of. Learn more about your employment contract rights below.

At-Will Hiring Is Common

The significant majority of jobs in South Carolina fall under the at-will definition. This means that you may be hired and fired without any stated cause. The rationale behind allowing such treatment is that in theory, a worker is free to leave at any time to pursue alternative employment. This may or may not be accurate in practice, but regardless, it is the law in South Carolina. In 2004, the state’s legislature even inserted a provision into the relevant statute expressly stating that the “public policy of [South Carolina]” was that an employee handbook or personnel manual did not create an employment contract if it was explicitly disclaimed.

At-will hiring does not mean that an employee may be fired if done for reasons that are implicitly against the law. For example, a person of color may not be terminated by their employer solely because they are a person of color. A person who is a member of a protected class under employment discrimination law may still be terminated, of course, if their job performance is insufficient—but that must be the reason. At-will employment does not give an employer the right to act on their prejudices.

Has There Been A Breach Of Contract?

Employment contracts are similar to every other contract in that there are two parties and that a breach occurs when one party fails to live up to their promised obligations. While most employment contracts are written, there is precedent in South Carolina law for holding a company liable for breach of an oral promise, though it would be difficult to follow through on such a suit unless the fact pattern allowed for it. Most of the time, one must show a breach of a written contract for a case of action to be mounted, simply because oral contracts are easy to fake and seldom have relevant witnesses.

If your employment contract has been broken by your termination without sufficient notice, you have options. Breach of contract is a possibility, but you may also wish to bring a charge with either the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you do either of these, however, you may have to wait until the agency has investigated your claim to its satisfaction before you will be able to bring a lawsuit. If you wish to seek relief quickly, a lawsuit may be the best option.

Contact An Experienced Attorney

Most people simply want to work without interference. If you believe your employment contract rights have been infringed, an experienced attorney can help you obtain compensation. Contact the Charleston office of Hitchcock & Potts today to set up an initial consultation.

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