South Carolina is an “at-will” employment state. Generally, this means that an employer in South Carolina has the right to terminate any employee for any reason, or even for no reason, at all without incurring liability. There are, however, some exceptions to South Carolina’s “at-will” employment doctrine that limit an employer’s right to terminate an employee.
One of the most common exceptions to “at-will” employment exists where the employee and the employer have a contract setting forth the terms and duration of the employment between the parties. Where the employee has an employment contract with the employer, the employee is not employed “at-will” as would otherwise be the case and both the employer and the employee must abide by the terms of the contract.
Additionally, an employment contract may be created by an employment handbook. Handbooks are often issued by employers to employees upon hire. Handbooks typically set forth the rules and guidelines that an employee must follow. Handbooks often set forth progressive discipline systems by which employees in violation of the employer’s guidelines will be punished. Handbooks that contain affirmative, promissory, or mandatory language often create contracts of employment and both the employer and the employee must abide by the terms of the handbook. An employer may, however, prevent a handbook from creating an implied contract by including a conspicuous disclaimer in the handbook that specifically adheres to the statutory rules set forth by the South Carolina Legislature. Even where an employer has properly disclaimed a handbook from creating a contract, an employer may nevertheless unintentionally create an employment contract by providing oral statements of assurance of a job or promises to an employee.
South Carolina also recognizes a public policy exception to “at-will” employment, which prohibits an employer from terminating an employee when the discharge is in violation of a clear mandate of public policy. The public policy exception often applies in situations where an employer either requires the employee to violate the law or where the employer’s reason for termination itself is a violation of criminal law.
Finally, there are a number of federal statutes and laws that provide protection to employees who are terminated in violation of a statutory or constitutional right.
Unpaid Overtime Claims
Unpaid Wage Claims
Family Medical Leave Act
Breach of Contract