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Exceptions To South Carolina’s “At-Will” Doctrine

As of this writing, every state in the U.S. is an at-will state in terms of employment, which means that employees can be terminated without notice or cause. However, it’s important to understand that there are exceptions to South Carolina’s “at-will” doctrine. If you believe you have experienced wrongful termination, you may be able to file a complaint against your employer. Consulting an attorney can help you determine what might be the best path for you.

Employment Contracts

At-will employment allows an employer to dismiss their workers at any time, for any reason. However, not every employee works at-will. The most common exception is those who have employment contracts. By definition, a contracted employee is not “at-will.” An employment contract is an agreement between the employer and the employee, which cannot be terminated by one party unilaterally. In addition, most employment contracts have provisions in them that do not allow the contract to be broken without penalties.

It’s important to keep in mind that an employment contract is sometimes implied, rather than explicit. For example, South Carolina law holds that an employee handbook, policy manual, or other document issued by an employer does not create an employment contract if it is “conspicuously disclaimed.” That said, if a disclaimer does not meet the statute’s definition of “conspicuous,” an implied contract may be established anyway. Each case is different, but the possibility is always there.

Discrimination & Public Policy

Even if an employee does not have a contract and is employed “at will,” there are still certain situations in which a termination or negative employment action might be deemed unlawful or otherwise inappropriate. The most common is if an employer acts against their employees based on a protected characteristic—for example, race/color, gender/sex, national origin, or religion, which are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or disability, which is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. If you are fired due to one of these characteristics, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seeking redress.

Another exception to the “at-will” doctrine is referred to as the public policy exception—generally, in South Carolina, this means that an employee cannot be terminated for any reason that would shock the public conscience. For example, if an employee refuses to do something illegal on behalf of their employer, or if they comply with a subpoena to inform on their employer’s business practices, firing them would violate public policy, and that employee would, at least in theory, be entitled to seek compensation.

Call A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

It’s important to understand that there are exceptions to South Carolina’s “at-will” doctrine. At-will employment is a fact of life, but there are situations where an employee has more protections than others, and does not have to rely on the beneficence of their employer. If you believe that your termination falls under an exception to the “at-will” doctrine, contacting a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney can be the first step toward seeking redress. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has been handling these matters for many years, and the firm of Hitchcock & Potts can help you get the fairness you deserve. Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation.

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