Wrongful Discharge Claims Limit Employment At-Will Doctrine in North and South Carolina: Employment Law Update - September 2011 Supplemental


Employment in North and South Carolina is at-will, which generally means an employer can terminate an employee at any time without notice. However, both states have long-recognized exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine, including provisions that an employee cannot be discharged for reasons that contravene the “public policy” of the state. Although courts in North and South Carolina generally construe public policy wrongful termination claims narrowly, at least one recent court decision has signaled a willingness to broaden the scope of such claims, potentially exposing employers to more lawsuits by terminated employees.

Recent South Carolina Decision Broadens Wrongful Discharge Claims

In Barron v. Labor Finders of South Carolina (Opinion Number 27018, August 1, 2011), the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that an employee who was terminated the day after making an internal complaint about unpaid commissions could not maintain a claim for wrongful discharge under South Carolina law. On the surface, the decision is unremarkable and generally consistent with previous South Carolina case law regarding wrongful termination claims. The case is significant, however, because it actually broadens the previously narrow category of circumstances under which a claim for wrongful termination would be recognized.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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