North Carolina Employment Law: What You Need to Know
If you have ever wondered whether your employer is “allowed” to behave in a certain way, or treat you in a specific manner, you are not alone. There is almost always an imbalance of power between employers and employees which tilts in the favor of the employer. They hold all the cards, right? They make the decisions about hiring, firing, paying, and much more.
But you are not defenseless. There are federal and state employment laws in place to protect workers’ rights. And the attorneys at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin know NC labor laws and are committed to fighting for North Carolina employee rights.
What North Carolina Employee Rights Should Every Worker Know About?
Employees should know their rights so that they can handle challenging situations at work in an informed manner and also identify when the law is being broken. Three major employee rights that all North Carolina workers should know about are the:
|Right of workers and employees to be free from discrimination and harassment|
|Right to family and medical leave|
|Right to fair wages for work performed|
However, employers also have rights. In North Carolina, employment is at-will. The National Conference of State Legislatures defines at-will as follows:
“An employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.”
In this definition, the phrase “except an illegal one” is significant. Read on to learn of some of the North Carolina employment laws that are used to determine what kinds of employer behavior are prohibited.
What North Carolina Labor Laws Are Most Important to Employees?
Employees should not have to endure discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, being forced to work off-the-clock, or any other illegal behavior in the workplace.
There are federal and state employment laws that are designed to protect workers from unfair and illegal treatment. The federal government sets minimum standards for employment protection, and the state of North Carolina adds laws and regulations to strengthen many standards for its citizens.
Employment Laws That Protect Workers’ Civil Rights
An important category of employment law deals with workers’ civil rights. There are several major federal and North Carolina employment laws protecting employees from harassment and discrimination:
- Title VII of Civil Rights Act – federal law that protects employees and job applicants from job discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex
- NC Equal Employment Practices Act (NCEEPA) – state law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, or handicap
- Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) – federal law that protects employees and job applicants 40 years or older from age-based discrimination
- Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – federal law that protects people with disabilities from work-related discrimination
- North Carolina Persons with Disabilities Protection Act – state law that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, public service, public transportation, and employment against physically or mentally disabled North Carolinians
- Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) – state law that protects employees form discrimination or retaliatory action (such as discharge, demotion, relocation, or suspension) for filing workplace safety and health complaints
- Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) – federal law that prohibits discrimination based on citizenship or national origin against workers who are authorized to work in the United States
- Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) – federal law that prohibits inquiries into, and discrimination based on, an employee’s or employee’s family’s medical or genetic history
Employment Laws That Protect Workers’ Family and Medical Leave Rights
Other employment laws that affect many North Carolinians are family and medical leave laws, such as:
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – federal law that requires employers to provide unpaid, job-protected leave to employees for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage availability and reinstatement to the same or similar job
- North Carolina FMLA Laws Extensions – state-specific FMLA extensions that allow NC employees to have unpaid leave for specific situations, such as family illness leave, school leave, and leave to obtain a protective order
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – federal law that prohibits discrimination at work on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical conditions such as breast feeding, pumping, and contraception
Employment Laws That Protect Employees’ Compensation Rights
There are several federal and North Carolina labor laws that focus on employees’ rights to fair wages for work performed, including:
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – federal law that determines the minimum wage ($7.50/hour or $2.13/tipped hour), overtime pay (1.5 times the hourly rate for hourly employees working more than 40 hours/week), recordkeeping, and youth standards
- North Carolina Wage and Hour Act – state law that sets forth pay day requirements (frequency and manner), minimum wages (same as FLSA), and overtime pay (same as FLSA)
- Equal Pay Act (EPA) – federal law that prohibits sex-based wage discrimination
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – amendment to the EPA which prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, race, or national origin among employees who work in “equivalent” jobs
Employees also have a general right to a safe workplace free of dangerous conditions, toxic substances, and other potential safety hazards. When employees are injured or become ill in connection with work, they should contact a workers’ compensation attorney to learn of the benefits and compensation that may be available to them.
What Can I Do if I Think NC Labor Laws Have Been Violated?
If your employer is mistreating you, it’s time to take a close look at the behavior in question to determine whether it’s unfair or unlawful. Since North Carolina is an at-will state, employers are allowed to behave unfairly, as long as they are not breaking the law, and employees are allowed to leave at will.
If leaving is not a viable option for you, take the following steps which may be helpful if you might decide to pursue legal action later:
- Meet with your manager
- Inform your manager of the behavior
- Document the meeting and its outcome
- Meet with human resources to discuss the issue if it’s ongoing
- Do not post information about the mistreatment on social media
When an employer breaks an employment law, take action. Consult with an experienced attorney, share your documentation, and explain the specifics of your work situation to better understand if your employer’s behavior was unfair or illegal.
Ask about the options available to you:
- Can you file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC?
- Can you report an FLSA or FMLA violation to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor?
- Can you file a civil lawsuit?
Discuss you goals and consider different strategies to try to protect your employment rights and meet those goals.
What Is the Statute of Limitations to Sue an Employer in North Carolina?
The answer to this question depends on your unique employment situation and what North Carolina employment law is being violated.
Here are several general time frames for filing employment law claims and lawsuits against employers in North Carolina:
- If you are filing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, you generally must file within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.
- If you are filing a wrongful discharge claim with the EEOC, you generally must file within three years of the termination.
- If you are filing a wage complaint lawsuit, you generally must file within two years from when the wages were due.
- If you are filing a FMLA lawsuit, you generally must file within two years of the alleged violation or three years if the violation is willful.
If you feel that your rights as an employee have been violated, seek the guidance of an attorney who is familiar with North Carolina labor laws and their specific statutes of limitation, timelines, and procedures for filing a complaint or a civil lawsuit.
What Are Common Examples of North Carolina Employment Law Violations?
Unfortunately, NC employers treat workers illegally often. Below are just a few examples:
- Firing an employee because of their nationality or skin color
- Denying a valid FMLA request
- Demoting a worker for getting pregnant
- Harassing an employee sexually at work
- Paying non-tip employees less than $7.25 per hour
- Refusing to provide ramps for wheelchair users
- Reducing the salary of a worker for filing a complaint with the EEOC
What Kinds of Compensation Might I Receive?
If your employer has violated your rights as an employee by breaking a federal or state employment law, you can file a civil claim against them and fight for the compensation you may deserve for the harms and damages you suffered because of this wrongdoing.
Any awarded compensation is intended to make you whole (in the same place you would have been had the violation not taken place), and may cover both financial and emotional losses you endured.
While potential compensation for employee right violations depends on the type of claim, victims may be able to recover the following types of compensation:
- Back pay and/or front pay
- Lost benefits
- Reasonable accommodations
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
How Can an Attorney Help Protect My Employee Rights in NC?
If you have experienced discrimination at work; been denied your legal right to medical leave, minimum wage, or overtime pay; or think your employer is violating your rights as an employee in another way, you should consider hiring an employment attorney who handles the employee side of North Carolina employment law.
Our firm works on a contingency fee basis so that we can help North Carolina workers who do not have the funds to hire a lawyer at the start of a claim. Instead, we only get an attorney’s fee if we obtain compensation for you.2