South Carolina, like many states, is an employment-at-will jurisdiction, meaning that employees cannot sue if they believe that their termination was unfair or unwarranted. However, like most at-will employment states, South Carolina recognizes a limited exception for terminations that violate established public policy. Last month, a South Carolina federal district court found a public policy violation by a home health company that allegedly fired a registered nurse for refusing to discontinue care before expiration of the physician's order.
In Patterson v. Gentiva Health Servs. Inc., the plaintiff claimed that his employer ordered him to cease providing care services, and terminated him for insubordination after he refused to do so. The plaintiff pointed to a South Carolina statute that subjects registered nurses to disciplinary action if they abandon a patient without making arrangements for continuing care.
The district court agreed, denying the employer's motion to dismiss the claim. The court stated that the public policy expressed under the statute was clear enough to support the plaintiff's claim. Although exceptions to at-will employment have been most frequently recognized in South Carolina where the employee alleges that he or she was ordered to break the law, the district court applied it in this circumstance to a situation where complying with the employer's instruction would have jeopardized the employee's nursing license.