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Horton Law Firm Blog Political and Voting Rights for South Carolina Employees

 | Political and Voting Rights for South Carolina Employees

As we enter the final stretches of presidential election season, political rhetoric always heats up, both on TV and in regular life, which can impact the political and voting rights for South Carolina employees. How so? Well, unless you work for a state or federal governmental agency, you do not have First Amendment rights in the workplace. A private company is not bound by the First Amendment like a public employer would be. (I covered this topic in more detail when discussing employees’ posts on Facebook here.) But what sort of rights DO you have?

Do South Carolina Private Employees Have Any Political Rights in the Workplace?

While the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private employers, South Carolina employees do have some rights regarding political and voting issues in the workplace. The primary law that provides protection is S.C. Code Section 16-17-560. Under this code section, “[i]t is unlawful for a person … discharge a citizen from employment or occupation … because of political opinions or the exercise of political rights and privileges guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution and laws of the United States or by the Constitution and laws of this State.” The Supreme Court of South Carolina has determined that an employee fired in violation of this statute may bring a private civil action for wrongful termination in violation of South Carolina’s public policy. So if an employee can prove that they were fired in violation of their political beliefs or exercise of rights, then the employee can seek damages resulting from that violation, including lost wages and punitive damages. 

Examples would be firing someone for donating money to a particular political cause, exercising protest rights to protest against or for political causes, and voting for a certain candidate. The case law on this statute is not yet fully developed, which provides for legal options for employees who have been fired for similar or related reasons. 

Do South Carolina Private Employees Have Any Voting Rights in the Workplace?

As for voting rights, South Carolina does not have a law that requires an employer to provide time off for employees to go vote, although I have seen a company offer that time off to employees, as provided for in their employee handbook. However, because voting is a political right, there’s certainly an argument that firing an employee for going to vote (or prohibiting an employee from doing so) would run afoul of S.C. Code 19-17-560. But no SC appellate court has delved into that issue yet. Best practice for South Carolina employees is to work out a time to go vote before or after work or during breaks. 

Takeaways for South Carolina Employees

Many South Carolina employees believe that a company cannot fire them for exercising free speech rights, but that is not correct if you are a private employee, as most SC employees are. That means that you can lose your job for things you say, both at work and during your off-hours. Comments on social media are a good way to get yourself in trouble, and employers sometimes look on social media profiles, both before you get hired and afterwards. 

However, if you are terminated for who you vote for in the upcoming election, then you may need to speak with a South Carolina employment lawyer about your legal options. These types of cases are highly fact-specific, and not all scenarios are sufficient to bring a lawsuit over. 


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