Employment Law in NC
A brief look at employee rights in this state.
One of the most puzzling things I have to explain to folks is the concept of “at will” employment. The terms “at will” is a great legal term: simple. Basically, if you are an at will employee, the employer can terminate your employment at will. In North Carolina, you are generally presumed to be employed at will unless you can prove otherwise, usually through written documents relating to your employment or oral statements your employer has made. Normally you are “at will” unless there is a contract for a specific period of time or you work for a governmental employer or in a union shop where just cause is required for termination.
If you are hired without a contract, or at a small company, you are almost certainly an at will employee. However, should you have a contract or a handbook, you will want to review the employment contract or employee handbook to determine if you are in fact employed “at will.” If you are, that is likely something you want to take up before you renew the contract. Here’s why: an at-will employee can be fired at any time, for any reason (except for a few illegal reasons, such as discrimination). I don’t like your hair; fired. Your breath stinks; fired. You flirted with the girl I was flirting with; fired. If the employer decides to let you go, that’s the end of your job — and you have very limited legal rights to fight your termination. The Courts have dealt with extreme cases where folks have been fired for voting for a particular political candidate. Voting, yes voting, the most basic fundamental right of American citizens, can be a grounds to termination, if you are an at will employee.
While this scheme is not unique to NC, it is most prevalent in the south. While it may seem unfair to you, employers and lawmakers often argue it allows them to bring more jobs here versus the north, where the workforce is more unionized.
If you find this subject interesting, please comment below and I will be happy to examine more intriguing topics in employment law like drug testing, overtime and leave/vacation time.