Ideally, no worker would ever be fired from their job without a valid reason. However, this is not necessarily how modern day business works. Employees may be terminated for no apparent reason at all. This is referred to as at-will employment, because it is at the will of the employer. However, despite this seemingly arbitrary practice, South Carolina at will employment does provide employees with certain rights. You may bring suit against your employer if your employee rights are breached.
Protected Activity Under South Carolina Employment Law
At-will employees may be fired for legal reasons—but the key word is legal. It is legal to terminate someone, for example, for keeping their workspace in an untidy or dangerous condition. But it is illegal to terminate someone due to their ethnicity or their age or because they took some action the employer perceives as adverse. Multiple South Carolina labor laws protect against discrimination on such grounds. At will employment or the lack of a tangible employment contract does not imply a lack of protection against unlawful discrimination.
South Carolina law lays out a specific list of actions that may not be grounds for adverse employment action, regardless of how it may inconvenience or embarrass an employer. Examples include reporting for jury duty, participating in an internal investigation, or filing a request under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you are terminated for engaging in activity that is protected under state law or the federal Title VII, you will almost certainly have grounds to file for wrongful termination.
At Will Employment & Immutable Characteristics
Other illegal reasons that at-will employees may be fired involve what is referred to as immutable characteristics. These are characteristics about an individual that cannot be changed or eliminated. These include things like race, age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, and in some cases, sexual orientation, among others. State and federal employment laws do not permit termination based on such characteristics simply because one cannot change them. If one cannot help something, the law generally holds that they may not be punished or disadvantaged for it.
Even if you live in an at will employment state, if you are terminated due to an immutable characteristic, you may be entitled to seek compensation. You could file a claim through the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While both entities will recommend negotiation or mediation with one’s employer first, it may be less likely to bear fruit if you are an employee at will (as the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians are), because employers have more hiring power and can simply replace you.
Get Help From a South Carolina Labor Law Attorney
Sometimes, being terminated is something that one simply has to accept, especially if your behavior at work has never warranted any kind of discipline. But sometimes, being terminated is unfair or unlawful, even if one is an at-will employee. To clarify your situation and options, it is a good idea to consult a knowledgeable attorney. The Charleston law firm of Hitchcock & Potts is well versed in wrongful termination issues. Attorney A. Christopher Potts is happy to assist you with these matters.
Contact us today to set up an appointment.