South Carolina Labor Law

1. Introduction

South Carolina, known for its rich history and vibrant culture, is a state that also lays out specific laws to govern the relationship between employers and employees. State labor laws are designed to ensure fair and safe working conditions and to protect both parties in their professional dealings. These laws cover a wide range of topics, from minimum wage requirements to workplace safety standards. Understanding these regulations is vital for employers to remain compliant and for employees to be aware of their rights. The state's legislation captures the unique socio-economic stance of South Carolina while aligning with federal labor laws to provide a comprehensive legal framework for employment within the state. This article aims to delve into and elucidate upon the various facets of employment law as they stand in South Carolina, providing a window into the rules governing the labor landscape.

2. Minimum Wage Laws

In South Carolina, there is no state-specific minimum wage law. Therefore, employers in South Carolina are subject to the federal minimum wage laws as established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). As of the latest information available, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, a rate which has not changed since July 24, 2009. Employers in South Carolina must adhere to this rate as the baseline payment for employees.

It's important to note that there are some exemptions to the federal minimum wage requirements. For example, certain small businesses with an annual volume of sales made or business done of less than $500,000 may be exempt from having to pay the federal minimum wage, provided they do not engage in interstate commerce.

Additionally, South Carolina does not have a state-specific law regarding tipped employees. Therefore, the FLSA guidelines apply, allowing employers to take a tip credit towards the minimum wage obligation for tipped employees, such as those in the hospitality industry. This means employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage. If an employee's tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Some employees are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements under the FLSA, including but not limited to certain salaried management, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees who fulfill specific criteria. Understanding these exemptions is crucial for both employers and employees to ensure compliance with the law.

South Carolina law also indicates that employers must pay employees for every hour worked and that employees must be paid at least once every month. Employers are further required to maintain accurate records of employees' hours worked and wages paid.

If there are future changes to the federal minimum wage, South Carolina employers will need to adhere to the new standard, unless they qualify for an exemption. It's always recommended for both employers and employees in South Carolina to stay updated with any changes to federal and state labor laws to ensure compliance and protection of workers' rights.

3. Overtime Regulations

In South Carolina, overtime provisions are governed by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as the state does not have its own overtime laws. According to the FLSA, employees are entitled to receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than one and one-half times their regular rates of pay.

While the FLSA covers most workers, there are exemptions from the overtime requirements for certain types of employees, including, but not limited to, executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and some computer employees who meet specific criteria. These criteria often involve salary thresholds and duties that must be primarily managerial, supervisory, or intellectual in nature and require specialized education.

  • Non-exempt employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek.
  • Overtime is calculated on a weekly basis, not daily. This means that an employee could work more than 8 hours in a day without receiving overtime, as long as the total hours worked in the workweek do not exceed 40.
  • Employers are not required by the FLSA to pay overtime for work on weekends, holidays, or regular days of rest unless overtime hours are worked on such days.
  • Overtime must be actually worked; paid time off such as vacation or sick leave does not count towards the 40 hours.
  • The FLSA does not limit the number of hours that employees aged 16 and older can work in any workweek, as long as they are compensated for all overtime hours worked.
  • Some states require double time pay for certain circumstances, but South Carolina follows the federal standard of time and a half.
  • Employers cannot avoid paying overtime by requiring or allowing employees to work 'off the clock.'

It's important for both employers and employees in South Carolina to understand these regulations to ensure compliance with the law and the fair treatment of workers. Employers must keep accurate records of hours worked by employees and ensure that any overtime worked is properly compensated. Employees should also track their hours to verify that they are being paid correctly for overtime.

Because overtime laws can be complex, it's advisable for employers in South Carolina to consult with a legal professional or a human resources expert if they have specific questions regarding exemption classifications or overtime calculations for their employees.

4. Vacation Leave

In South Carolina, there is no state law requiring employers to provide employees with vacation leave, either paid or unpaid. Vacation leave is considered a benefit that employers may offer at their discretion. However, if an employer chooses to provide vacation time, they must abide by the terms of their established policy or employment contract.

  • Employers are free to design their own vacation policies, including how much time is offered, whether it accrues or is granted lump-sum, and under what conditions it may be used.
  • When an employer has an established policy regarding vacation leave, they must follow their policy consistently and without discrimination.
  • In South Carolina, employers are not required to pay out accrued vacation upon termination of employment unless the employer’s policy or employee contract provides for such payment.
  • Employers can legally implement a "use-it-or-lose-it" policy that requires employees to use their vacation by a certain date or risk forfeiting it. However, this policy must be clearly communicated to employees in advance.
  • Employers have the right to manage the scheduling of vacation time to prevent disruptions to their business operations. This means that an employer can deny a request for vacation leave during busy periods, provided the denial is based on non-discriminatory reasons and in line with company policy.

Because there are no specific state laws on vacation leave, the details often come down to what is stipulated in the employment agreement or the employer's personnel policy manual. Employees should familiarize themselves with their company's vacation policy to understand their rights and obligations related to vacation leave.

It should also be noted that while South Carolina does not require employers to provide vacation leave, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and health reasons. However, this is separate from vacation leave and has specific qualification criteria.

5. Sick Leave

South Carolina state law does not mandate private employers to provide employees with paid or unpaid sick leave. Like vacation leave, the provision of sick leave is at the discretion of the employer. This means that employers in South Carolina are free to create their own policies regarding sick leave but are not compelled by state law to offer this benefit.

  • If an employer decides to offer sick leave benefits, they must adhere to the terms of their established policy or employment contract.
  • Employers must apply their sick leave policies consistently and without discrimination among employees.
  • There is no legal requirement for employers to pay out accrued sick leave upon employee termination unless it is stipulated in the employer's policy or is part of an employment contract.
  • Employers have the flexibility to determine the conditions under which sick leave can be taken, such as requiring a doctor's note for prolonged absence due to illness.
  • An employer can also cap the amount of sick leave an employee accrues over a certain period and can implement policies on how unused sick leave is managed, e.g., whether it rolls over to the next year.

Although South Carolina does not require employers to provide sick leave, some employers might voluntarily implement sick leave policies to maintain a healthy work environment and to be competitive as an employer.

It’s important to note that under federal law, certain employers are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specified family and medical reasons. While FMLA leave is separate from sick leave, it may be relevant for employees experiencing serious health conditions or who need to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Employees in South Carolina should review their employer’s sick leave policy—if provided—to understand their entitlements and any requirements they may need to fulfill to use sick leave. Employers offering sick leave should ensure their policies comply with any relevant contractual obligations and should communicate their policies clearly to their employees.

6. Holiday Leave

Holiday leave in South Carolina is not mandated by state law for private sector employees. Employers have the discretion to provide paid or unpaid holiday leave, and this decision is typically reflected in the employer's policies or employee handbook. If an employer chooses to provide holiday leave, they may also specify which holidays are recognized and whether they are paid or unpaid.

  • There is no legal requirement for private employers in South Carolina to provide holiday leave or to pay employees at a premium rate for working on a holiday.
  • An employer can determine the paid holidays and may include New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, among others, in their policy.
  • If employees are required to work on recognized holidays, compensation is at the discretion of the employer unless governed by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.
  • For non-exempt employees covered by the FLSA, working on a holiday does not automatically entitle the employee to overtime pay—overtime is based on hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.
  • Employers may establish different policies for full-time and part-time employees regarding holiday leave benefits.
  • Should an employer choose to close their business on a holiday, they are not legally obligated to compensate employees for the time off unless it has been previously arranged or stipulated by a contract or policy.

While the lack of statutory requirements provides flexibility for employers, companies in South Carolina commonly offer certain holidays off as a benefit to attract and retain employees. It's essential for employees to familiarize themselves with their company’s holiday leave policy to understand their rights and responsibilities concerning holiday leave.

Additionally, public sector employees in South Carolina may have holiday benefits guaranteed by state personnel regulations, which differ from those in the private sector. State employees typically receive a specified number of paid holidays each year as determined by the South Carolina Department of Administration or other governing bodies.

7. Breaks

In terms of designated break periods during the workday, South Carolina does not have state-specific laws that require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, to employees aged 18 and older. Instead, work break policies are at the discretion of the employer, unless there are applicable federal laws or the employee is covered by certain contracts or collective bargaining agreements.

  • For workers under the age of 18, state law requires a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours of work.
  • Although it's not mandated by state law, many employers in South Carolina provide their employees with meal breaks and short rest periods as part of best practices for maintaining a productive workforce.
  • While employers are not required to offer breaks, if they do, breaks lasting less than 20 minutes must generally be paid according to federal labor standards.
  • Meal periods typically last at least 30 minutes and can be unpaid provided the employee is completely relieved of all work duties during the break.
  • Employers who choose to provide break time must ensure that their policy adheres to the guidelines set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Any stipulations about breaks should be clearly communicated in the employer's employee handbook or company policy documents.

It is noteworthy that while South Carolina's state law may not require adult employee breaks, certain industries or jobs might be governed by federal regulations or safety standards that specify the need for breaks.

Employees with specific concerns regarding break times and practices may wish to discuss these directly with their employers or consult employments laws and regulations. Employers are encouraged to establish clear, consistent policies on breaks and communicate them effectively to ensure a mutual understanding with their workforce.

8. Employment Termination Laws

In South Carolina, employment relationships are generally considered "at-will." This means that, absent a written employment contract to the contrary, either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice. However, there are state and federal laws that outline certain restrictions and obligations regarding the termination of employment to protect workers from wrongful termination and to ensure the process is handled lawfully.

  • Under the at-will doctrine, employers are not required to provide a reason for terminating an employee. However, employers cannot terminate an employee for an unlawful reason, such as discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
  • Employers also cannot terminate employees as a form of retaliation for engaging in protected activities, such as filing a complaint about discrimination, participating in an investigation or lawsuit related to discrimination, or exercising rights under labor laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • South Carolina has a "final paycheck" law, which requires employers to give a terminated employee their final paycheck within 48 hours of the termination or by the next regularly scheduled payday, whichever comes first. The final paycheck should include compensation for all hours worked up to the termination date and payment for accrued leave if the employer's policy provides for such payment upon termination.
  • Mass layoffs and plant closings may be subject to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires certain employers to provide 60 days advance notice of covered plant closings and mass layoffs. Employers who fail to comply with WARN Act requirements may face penalties.
  • In cases where an employee is terminated for misconduct, the employer may need to document the reasons for termination carefully to defend against potential claims for unemployment benefits. South Carolina allows employers to dispute unemployment claims when the termination was due to employee misconduct.

While the at-will employment doctrine offers considerable flexibility for employers, it also necessitates that they operate within the bounds of the law to avoid allegations of wrongful termination. Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated may seek to file a claim with state or federal agencies or pursue legal action against the employer.

Both employers and employees should be aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to termination, including any applicable contractual obligations or specific terms outlined in employee handbooks or policies. As such regulations and laws can evolve, it's advisable to consult with a legal professional for guidance on current laws and practices in South Carolina regarding employment termination.

9. Unemployment Rights

South Carolina provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own, as per the regulations set forth by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW). These benefits aim to offer temporary financial assistance to individuals while they search for new employment.

To qualify for unemployment benefits in South Carolina, an individual must meet several requirements including:

  • Having earned a minimum amount of wages during the base period (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the claim is filed).
  • Being able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work each week benefits are claimed.
  • Being out of work for reasons other than misconduct or voluntary resignation without good cause.

The amount and duration of unemployment benefits in South Carolina vary based on the claimant's previous earnings and the total amount of wages earned during the base period. The maximum weekly benefit amount is set by the state's laws and is subject to change.

To maintain eligibility for unemployment benefits, claimants must:

  • File weekly or biweekly claims, as directed by SCDEW.
  • Report any earnings from part-time or full-time work during each claim period.
  • Participate in reemployment services if considered a likely candidate for such services by SCDEW.
  • Be willing to accept suitable employment.

Applicants can file for unemployment benefits online through the SCDEW portal or by visiting a local SCDEW office. Throughout the claim process, documentation may be required to verify identity and previous wages, and claimants must adhere to the guidelines to avoid disqualification.

If an individual's claim for unemployment benefits is denied, they have the right to appeal the decision. The appeals process involves a hearing before an authorized representative where the claimant and the employer may both present evidence. If the initial appeal is not resolved in the claimant’s favor, further appeals can be made to the Appellate Panel and then to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.

Additionally, South Carolina offers resources and programs aimed at helping unemployed individuals reenter the workforce. These include job training, resume assistance, and job placement services which can be accessed through SC Works Centers located throughout the state.

It is important to note that while the SCDEW administers unemployment benefits, these rights and regulations are also governed by federal law. Changes at the federal level, such as extensions of benefits during economic downturns, may affect the rights and benefits of claimants in South Carolina.

For up-to-date information on unemployment rights and the most current guidelines, claimants should consult the SCDEW website or contact their local office directly.

10. Workplace Safety

Workplace safety in South Carolina is governed by both state and federal regulations to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. The state follows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, which set forth various requirements and guidelines that employers must follow to minimize the risk of injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

The South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (SC OSHA) is the state agency responsible for enforcing these standards. SC OSHA's mission includes inspecting workplaces, providing training to employers and workers, and investigating complaints and accidents to ensure compliance with safety and health standards.

  • Workplace Inspections: SC OSHA conducts inspections of workplaces without prior notice. Inspections may be the result of scheduled plans, complaints, referrals, or fatalities and catastrophes. Inspectors assess the work environment, equipment, and processes to ensure they meet safety standards.
  • Injury and Illness Reports: Employers are required to record and report work-related fatalities, injuries, and illnesses using OSHA Form 300 or equivalent forms. Certain severe incidents, such as workplace fatalities or hospitalizations, must be reported directly to SC OSHA within established time frames.
  • Employee Training and Education: Employers are responsible for providing proper training and education on workplace hazards, emergency procedures, and the use of personal protective equipment. This helps employees understand the risks associated with their job and how to protect themselves.
  • Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: Employees in South Carolina have the right to refuse work that they believe is dangerous to their health or safety. However, the situation must present an immediate risk of death or serious harm, and there must not be enough time to eliminate the danger through regular enforcement channels.
  • Whistleblower Protections: Employees who report safety violations or concerns have protections under whistleblower statutes. These laws are designed to prevent retaliation by employers against employees who engage in activities related to workplace safety.
  • Hazard Communication: Employers must inform and train employees on the handling of hazardous chemicals through hazard communication programs. This includes maintaining safety data sheets, proper labeling, and employee access to such information.
  • Emergency Action Plans: Employers are also required to develop written emergency action plans that address the procedures employees should follow in the event of a significant emergency, such as fires, natural disasters, or chemical releases.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When hazards cannot be adequately controlled by other means, employers must provide PPE to employees and ensure its proper use and maintenance. This equipment might include items such as gloves, eye protection, hearing protection, and respirators.

In addition to these statewide rules, some industries have additional regulations that apply specifically to them, such as construction, manufacturing, or healthcare. Employers within these sectors are responsible for understanding and implementing any industry-specific safety requirements.

For more detailed information on workplace safety laws or to report a workplace hazard, employees and employers in South Carolina can contact SC OSHA directly or visit their website. Ensuring a safe work environment is not only a legal requirement but also integral to protecting the well-being of workers and the overall productivity of the workplace.