When you engage in activity that is protected by law, or when you refuse to go along with illegal or unethical activity propagated by your employer, that is not grounds for termination in any possible respect. However, sometimes an employer will try to fire an employee that does not toe the company line, so to speak, attempting to make a “problem” go away. This is what is called wrongful or retaliatory discharge. If this has happened to you, you may be able to sue your employer for compensation.
But I Thought SC Was An At-Will State?
Normally, South Carolina is what’s called an at-will state, meaning that you can in theory be terminated (or voluntarily leave your job) for any reason at any time. However, there are exceptions to this, and South Carolina observes all three of them. You cannot be fired if the termination goes against public policy, against the implied-in-fact contract rule, or if it would breach the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In other words, if firing you would break certain ethical rules that are not necessarily written, but are understood in law to hold, then you cannot be fired (at least not at the time and/or in the manner your employer may propose).
Usually, retaliatory termination falls under the public policy exception, but it depends on the specific facts of your situation to know which exception (if any) apply to you. If you truly believe it was a retaliatory act, it would not be terminating you “at will” but rather for cause. Either way may bear fruit in terms of finding a courtroom that will hold that you were unlawfully let go from a job. Contacting an attorney to find out more is always a good idea.
How To Seek Compensation
Depending on the specific reason you were fired, you may wish to either bring a charge through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission. When someone is terminated for a reason that is not within the purview of the EEOC, they may simply wish to sue, but retaliation is the most often alleged basis of discrimination in both the public and private sector. Thus, it is generally recommended to seek the advice of the agency before going to court.
Generally, what will happen is that the EEOC will investigate the charge, often initiating mediation or other alternative dispute resolution tactics in an effort to head off any need for a lawsuit. If they decline to take the case to court, they will issue you what is called a right-to-sue letter, which then allows you to sue in civil court. If the EEOC does not take up your case, it does not necessarily mean that it lacks merit. The EEOC simply has a very full plate of cases from around the nation, and they do not have the bandwidth to take every case personally. The right-to-sue letter establishes that the EEOC will not intervene, but that is all.
Contact An Employment Law Attorney
Retaliating against a worker who is engaging in protected activity is unlawful. If it happens to you, it is likely to be actionable. Having an attorney on your side can help you get through what can be a scary and difficult process. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has experience in these types of cases, and is happy to try and help you with yours. Contact our Charleston employment discrimination law firm today to set up an appointment.