If you are an at will employee, then you can be fired for reasons that might be unfair, stupid, and just plain mean. 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. I could go on and on.
So, what are the exceptions?
Exceptions: Federal Law
The top three exceptions under federal law are as follows.
1. Title VII: Employers can't fire an employee because of race, sex, national origin, pregnancy or for complaining about these types of discrimination or harassment.
2. ADEA: Employers can't fire an employee because of an employee's age or for complaining about age discrimination.
3. FMLA: Certain employees are entitled to take 12 weeks of (unpaid) leave for a "serious health condition" and cannot be fired for taking time off which qualifies for FMLA protection.
There are others, but these are the main exceptions. If these do not apply and you want to know for sure if there might be another, you should consult an employment attorney.
Exceptions: State Law
There are less exceptions under South Carolina law, but the main two are as follows:
1. Employee handbook: If you have an employee handbook that provides for mandatory progressive discipline, this MIGHT be an exception. The law also permits an employer to have a disclaimer which essentially prevents the handbook from being effective. If you have an employee handbook, you should have it reviewed by an employment lawyer. Why? Because it depends on the language used (mandatory or permissive) and the specifics of the disclaimer.
2. Public Policy Exception: The public policy exception is a little hard to define, but it primarily prevents an employer from terminating an employee for refusing to violate the law. It may also apply if the employee was terminated for reporting a violation of law. This exceptions is limited, but whether it may apply is hard to know without knowing the specific facts of an individual's case. Once again, the facts matter.