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Federal and state law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or prospective employees on the basis of one’s membership in a protected class or involvement in protected activity. There are many federal laws that protect the rights of employees and they serve as exceptions to the doctrine of “at-will” employment. While the general rule for employment in South Carolina is that an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason, whether good or bad, or even for no reason at all, federal law prohibits employers from firing employees for discriminatory reasons or retaliatory reasons.

Title VII

Generally, Title VII prohibits covered employers from discriminating against an individual on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice to refuse to hire, discharge or otherwise discriminate against any individual. Title VII further prohibits employers from retaliating against any individual because he or she has opposed an employment practice that is made unlawful under Title VII.

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits covered employers from engaging in age discrimination against employees who are 40 years of age or older. The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his or her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the person’s age. Like Title VII, the ADEA has an anti-retaliation provision making it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee because he or she has opposed any employment practice that is deemed unlawful under the ADEA.

The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)

The ADA, along with its amendments, prohibits employment discrimination against a qualified individual on the basis of disability. The ADAAA significantly broadened the scope of what constitutes a “disability” under the Act. With the ADAAA, Congress intended to shift the focus of then analysis under the ADA to whether a qualified individual has been discriminated against, rather than on whether the individual is a person with a disability.

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees in certain situations.
The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.


Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA makes it unlawful for covered employers to terminate, discipline or otherwise retaliate against eligible employees for taking up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within any 12-month period for the birth or care of a child or newly placed adopted child, the employee’s own serious health condition, or the care for a seriously ill immediate family member. The FMLA was amended in 2008 and the amendment largely gives broader rights to servicemembers and their immediate family as it provides up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to care for a covered servicemember with a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty. It is unlawful for a covered employer to interfere with an eligible employee’s FMLA rights or to retaliate against an employee who opposes violations of the FMLA.

In order to be an eligible employee under the FMLA, an employee must have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily 12 consecutive months), worked for the employer for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 month period preceding the leave, and be employed at a work site where the employer employs at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of where the employee works. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
Other federal ant-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws include the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), the Equal Pay Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Employees must be vigilant in determining and exercising any rights they may have under the aforementioned or any other federal or state employment laws, as many of these laws have strict procedural filing rules and deadlines.

Explore Further:

Wrongful Termination

Unpaid Overtime Claims

Unpaid Wage Claims

Family Medical Leave Act

Severance Agreements

Covenants Not to Compete

Sexual Harassment




Breach of Contract


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