Wrongful termination laws are designed to help determine whether an employee is justly fired from a positon, and if so, what type of recourse will occur. While termination laws vary by state, they generally cover issues such as whether an employer has a right to terminate an employee, or if by doing so, it is discriminating or otherwise infringing upon the individual’s rights.
Many termination laws involve the concept of at-will employment, or a type of contractual relationship that exists between the employer and the employee. Essentially, at-will employment means that the employer has the right to terminate anyone at any time, although the employer may not do so due to personal feelings about one’s race, color or belief system, among other areas. While the at-will employment concept gives employers the right to terminate employment under most circumstances, employers can still find themselves in trouble if, by terminating, they are breaking an existing agreement with the employee.
Termination laws are convoluted, but punishments for violating them can prove more clear-cut. Thus, it is essential that today’s employers familiarize themselves with termination laws in order to effectively stay on the right side of them.
At-Will Employment in South Dakota
The term “at-will employment” refers to a contractual work relationship that exists between employer and employee. Employers in at-will employment states are able to terminate employee relationships without due cause at virtually any time. South Dakota is considered an at-will employment state.
Wrongful Termination in South Dakota
Though South Dakota is an at-will employment state, meaning the employer can fire without reason and an employee can quit without reason, there are a number of exceptions. One cannot be terminated because of his or her color, race, religious beliefs or ancestry. Employers also cannot terminate those who have existing contracts, those who refuse to commit crimes on the employer’s behalf or those who are engaging in actions such as seeking worker’s compensation from the employer. South Dakota law also dictates that employers cannot fire workers who smoke offsite outside of work hours. Wrongful termination is a serious offense, and the best way to avoid landing in court is to understand the laws and act accordingly.
Breach of Contract: Under South Dakota law, three things must happen in order for a breach of contract to occur. First, an enforceable contract or existing promise must be in place. Then, that contract or promise must be broken; and finally, the employee must have experienced damages as a result of the broken promise or contract. These rules apply to both oral and written contracts, and they also apply when it comes to collective bargaining contracts within a union.
Discrimination: The majority of today’s wrongful termination cases involve allegations of discrimination. South Dakota laws, and federal laws, prevent employers from firing employees as a result of their race, disability, color, religious beliefs, ancestry or country of origin. South Dakota employees also may not be fired for serving jury duty in the state.
Retaliation: South Dakota employees who are taking advantage of one of their protected rights, such as those filing worker’s compensation claims or engaging in other “whistleblowing” activities, cannot be fired for their actions.
Public Policy: The state of South Dakota follows a public policy exemption despite being an at-will employment state. Essentially, the exemption says that employers cannot terminate an employee for reasons that violate established public policies, or for reasons that contradict sentiments of the general public at large. For example, because workers are allowed to pursue worker’s compensation claims, they cannot be terminated in the event that they decide to do so. Employers also cannot terminate an employee relationship because the employee refuses to engage in criminal activity on the employer’s behalf, because the employee is protected by public policy.
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