| Read Time: 3 minutes | Employment Law
north carolina at will employment

When it comes to employment, is North Carolina an at-will state? Yes, it is. Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this employment rule, and EMP Law can champion your rights. Let’s look at what North Carolina at-will employment means and your legal rights against job termination. 

For immediate assistance with your employment matter, please contact us online or call (336) 724-2828 today.

What Is the North Carolina At-Will Employment Rule?

In North Carolina, at-will employment means that you or your employer can end your employment at any time. And neither you nor your employer has to have a good reason—or any reason—to terminate your employment relationship. Also, your employer can change your job duties and benefits without reason. This means your employer could reduce your pay, demote you to a lower position, or change your schedule to different hours just because they want to.

The thought of being fired at any moment, even if you are a stellar employee, is frightening. But the good news is that state and federal laws carve out exceptions to this at-will rule. You can sometimes sue your boss for wrongful termination and recover financial damages and reinstatement to your former position.  

What Are the Exceptions to the At-Will Rule? 

Fortunately, there are a handful of exceptions to at-will employment in NC. 

The three main exceptions are:

  • Terminations or job changes in violation of state or federal anti-discrimination laws,
  • Terminations or job changes in violation of employment contract terms, and 
  • Terminations or job changes in violation of North Carolina public policy or other state laws.

If your employer terminates you or takes adverse action against you in violation of law, policy, or contract, you could be entitled to legal remedies. 

You can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or North Carolina’s Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau, or you can file a lawsuit in civil court. To make sure you timely file your complaint and have the best shot at winning, you should speak to an experienced attorney immediately after a termination that you believe may be in violation of applicable laws. 

State and Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Neither state nor federal law tolerates job terminations or employment changes motivated by discrimination against an employee’s protected characteristics. These protected characteristics include age (over 40), color, disability, genetics, national origin, race, religion, and sex. Your employer needs to have at least 15 employees for you to be able to file most discrimination complaints. If you want to file a federal age discrimination complaint, your employer must have at least 20 employees. 

Employment Contracts

Do you have a contract that says you will be employed for a certain period of time? Does your employment contract state that your employer can terminate you for only specific reasons? If you lost your job in violation of individual or collective contract terms, you can sue to recover your losses. And if you are unsure whether your employer breached a contract, take the matter to an experienced employment attorney. 

Public Policy

Your employer commits a termination in violation of public policy if they terminate you for the following reasons: 

  • Your refusal to engage in criminal activity or 
  • Your assertion of rights given to you by certain North Carolina statutes. 

Some statutory rights an employer cannot punish you for asserting include rights regarding your wages, safety, family leave, military service, genetic issues, and domestic or workplace violence issues.  

Payment After a Job Separation

Although your employer is generally free to end an employment relationship whenever they want, they still have to follow specific North Carolina termination laws regarding your final payment. After termination, your employer must pay you on or before the next regular payday. You can either wait for your final paycheck to come the customary way or request that your employer send your last check by mail. 

Also, if your employer has a policy about forfeiting wages, they cannot force you to forfeit your wages unless they have given you proper notice under the law. If there are any concerns regarding your last paycheck, a good lawyer can help make sure you receive proper payment. 

You Deserve a Good Advocate

Whether they are against former or current employers, workplace disputes are complicated. But EMP Law is here to fight these difficult battles for you. 

Our North Carolina employment attorneys are highly experienced and effective advocates. We have won millions for employees whose jobs did not give them a fair shake. You have worked hard enough, and it’s time to let us work hard for you. You can contact us online or call us at (336) 724-2828 today. 

Author Photo

Helen represents clients facing criminal charges in both state and federal court. She is a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel of attorneys in the Middle District of North Carolina, and is admitted to practice before the Eastern, Middle and Western District Federal Courts as well as the Fourth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal.

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