Every employment relationship that does not involve a contract for a stated term (like a contract for one year) is presumed to be “at will.” Employment at will is defined as the ability of either employer and employee to terminate employment for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all and at anytime without notice. So, what if you show up at work wearing a Clemson shirt and your supervisor is a Carolina fan and he fires you? Employment at will. You lose. Or what if you are fired for missing a day because your daughter had a 24 hour virus? Employment at will. Or because your supervisor wants to give your job to his golfing buddy or girl friend? Employment at will. Are there exceptions? Yes. But, not many.
I will go into more detail on this point in future posts, but here are the main exceptions to employment at will in South Carolina. (1) Do you have an employee handbook that provides for mandatory progressive discipline? If so, this MIGHT create an exception to employment at will. (2) An employer cannot fire an employee because the employee refuses to do something illegal. (3) If an employer refuses to pay you what they owe you or refuses to pay you overtime as the law requires and you complain, this MIGHT be an exception. (4) An employer cannot fire an employee because of the employee’s race, sex, age (over 40), national origin, disability, military status, and a few others. You cannot be fired because you (5) take Family and Medical Leave, (6) file a claim on your health insurance, (7) are pregnant, (8) you smoke away from work, or (9) because you express a political belief or exercise your political rights.
I am sure there are a couple small exceptions that I have missed, but this is pretty much it. And if you think this is bad, consider that if you have a non-compete, your employer can fire you for any damn reason it wants AND may be able to prevent you from working for a competitor for years. And you thought unions were bad.