Being terminated from a job is never a pleasant experience. Many people feel their dismissal was unfair or they feel they have been wronged. When tensions are high and accompanied by a wide range of emotions, it may be difficult to determine what the next step is. However, just because you feel your discharge was unfair or unjust does not necessarily mean you have a legal case against your employer.
Wrongful termination, discharge, or dismissal occurs when an employer fires an employee for a reason that violates state or federal anti-discrimination laws, public policy, or a pre-established employment contract, which can be created by virtue of employee handbooks in some cases.
This means that even though you may not agree with the circumstances regarding your termination, it still may have been legal for your boss to fire you. Since South Carolina is an “at-will employment” or “right to work” state, you may be fired (or you may quit) for any reason. In the case Shapiro v. Massengill, the court stated that “employers can discharge at-will employees for no reason or even for a bad reason.” Unless the reason you are being terminated is in violation of public policy, federal or state law, or an employment contract, it is legal for your employer to fire you. Unfortunately, this does not always lead to results that most people, particularly employees, would consider to be “fair.”
Examples of potentially legally acceptable reasons for termination:
- You got into a heated argument with your boss that ended with him/her saying, “You’re fired!”
- You weren’t getting along with a certain coworker; he/she did not get fired. You did.
- You were late to work because you had a flat tire.
- You missed work for a few days because you had the flu and forgot to let your boss know.
- You constantly used profanity in the workplace but didn’t think anyone noticed or cared.
- You were playing on your personal cell phone while you were supposed to be working.
Exception: If you were provided an employee handbook that contains “clear, specific, and mandatory” guidelines for termination and lacks a proper legal disclaimer stating that it is not intended to create a contract between you and your employer, then your employer’s right to discharge you at-will may be altered. This is usually a complex issue; an attorney can help you determine whether such a contract exists.
If you suspect that the reason you were fired had to do with discrimination (gender, age, race/ethnicity/national origin, religion, and/or disability/pregnancy) or was in retaliation to you taking a course of action against such discrimination, you should file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and contact an employment law attorney immediately.