“What is ‘after-acquired cause’ for firing?”

Question: My friend put in a three-month notice at his job. He worked the full three months. Six days later, when he returned to clean out his office he was told he was being charged with embezzlement for using the company gas credit card outside of work.

No charges were pressed, and he paid back what he owed the company, but after he repaid the money he was told that he was fired and lost his right to be paid for his unused personal and vacation days.

Can they fire him after he already quit? 

Rockhill, South Carolina

Answer: Dear Mathew:     

The legal concept of “After-Acquired Cause” is at the heart of your question. Let me explain: 

1. If misconduct is discovered after a person leaves a job, we call this “After-Acquired Cause.” What you describe happened to your friend is an example of “after-acquired cause.” Practically speaking, it is an employee’s bad conduct discovered after he or she has resigned. Legally speaking, it is a legal concept that is accepted by the laws of many states, and is recognized by the courts of South Carolina. What it really means is this: “If, before you quit, we had known you did bad things, we would have fired you. So, we are going to treat you as if we had, indeed, fired you.” 

2. “After-Acquired Cause” does not permit an employer to fire a former employee who has quit, but rather to treat that employee as if he or she had been fired. So, your friend’s employer said, in effect, “Employees who resign are paid for unused personal and vacation days, but employees that are fired are not paid them. Since we would have fired you, had we known of your misconduct, we are going to treat you that way.” Many, but not all, states’ laws support this position by employers and, as I mentioned above, South Carolina is one of them. 

3. If “After-Acquired Cause” is found regarding an employee who was paid severance, some employers will even sue the employee for the return of the severance monies. Yes, it goes that far: a former employee who has collected severance and moved on can find himself or herself facing a demand – or a lawsuit – for the return of the severance monies based on “after-acquired cause.” While there are defenses to such a lawsuit – including that the employer knew of the misconduct, but either condoned it or waived any objection – it is rather far-reaching, and can come up when you least expect it. The lesson is this: as an employee, try to stay as far away from any kind of misconduct as you can; it can come back to haunt you in so many ways.

On the subject of “being fired,” I highly recommend you take just a few minutes to view our free Video on YouTube entitled “Just Been Pinkslipped? The 3 Things You Need to Do.” You can become a savvier employee, and a smarter one, too, in just five or so minutes, if you simply [click here].

Mathew, your question is a good one. Hope my answer has been helpful to your friend.

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