Every employee in North Carolina is entitled to a workplace environment free of harassment. Harassment at work, whether racial, sexual, or other can come in many different forms and for many different reasons. When inappropriate behavior is targeted against a specific person or class of people, it may become legally actionable harassment.
Since 1997, we’ve recovered over $1.2 billion total for more than 50,000 people.1 If you believe you were the victim of workplace harassment, contact us for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to compensation for your harms and losses.
A Guide to North Carolina Workplace Harassment Laws
What Constitutes Harassment in NC?
Most people have had pressure applied by a supervisor at work or negative interactions with a co-worker. But what is considered harassment in North Carolina under the law? When does rude or inappropriate behavior at work turn into more than something just unpleasant?
Types of Workplace Harassment in NC
Workplace harassment is unwelcome and unsolicited speech or conduct based on:
- National origin
- Gender identity or expression
- Sexual orientation
- Age (40 and over)
- Political affiliation
- National Guard or veteran status
- Genetic information
Workplace harassment based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity or expression), and national origin is unlawful federally under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, if you are subjected to unwelcome speech or conduct specifically because you belong to one or more of the categories above, you may be entitled to compensation.
Does That Count as Harassment?
How bad does the conduct need to be before it is considered harassment?
Let’s say your supervisor makes a comment at a meeting about being forced to hire “old people.” You are older and believe you were the target of the comment. Is this harassment?
There are two questions to ask when evaluating the severity of workplace harassment:
- Do you have to endure the offensive conduct in order to keep your job?
- Would a standard, reasonable person consider your work environment to be hostile or abusive?
Bullying vs. Harassment
Though the two are often synonyms, there can be an important legal distinction between bullying and harassment. While bullying and harassment may encompass similar behaviors that create an abusive work environment, the difference lies in who is being targeted and why.
Acting improperly to everyone is one thing. But when someone who fits into any of the categories listed above is targeted for bullying because they are in that category, this is likely an actionable claim under job harassment laws in NC.
Let’s say your co-worker plays music with profanity every time anyone walks by their desk. They get pleasure from creating an unpleasant work environment just to watch others squirm. Is this harassment? While it certainly might be cause to terminate someone, their behavior isn’t targeting anyone in particular. Moreover, the reasoning is not to target someone because of their race or gender. Instead, we seem to be dealing with an equal opportunity offender – a bully.[ Back to Top ]
What Does the Law Say About Sexual Harassment?
One well-known form of unwelcome behavior at work is sexual harassment. For the 2019 fiscal year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 7,514 complaints of sexual harassment. That’s 7,514 too many.
North Carolina sexual harassment workplace laws prohibit harassment on the basis of sex.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct where:
- A supervisor makes a demand (normally sexual in nature) and rejection of the advances results in adverse employment decisions; or
- Your hiring or advancement is conditioned on submitting to the unwelcome advances
- The unwelcome conduct happens more than once, prevents you from doing your job, and your work environment would be considered intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person
This may include:
- Unwelcome touching or brushing against
- Sexual advances
- Threats or bribes for sexual favors
- Derogatory comments about your sexual orientation or gender expression
- Sexual innuendo or sexually suggestive jokes
- Displaying explicit materials
- Sexual assault
The more offensive a comment or action is, the less pervasive it needs to be to be considered sexual harassment. Regardless of sex, anyone can be a harasser or target of sexual harassment when unwelcome and unwanted sexual conduct manifests at work.
Types of Sexual Harassment Claims
The law recognizes two primary forms of sexual harassment claims:
Quid Pro Quo: When you might get fired or miss out on a job or the promotion you earned for rejecting or not submitting to unwelcome sexual advances.
The source of the harassment, such as whether it is a co-worker or supervisor, can factor into whether behavior may be considered coercive or merely disgusting. However, actionable harassment may come from anywhere, from a co-worker to an executive who doesn’t supervise you directly. It always depends on the specific facts of the case.
Hostile Work Environment: When your job is secure but your work environment is unbearable, intimidating, hostile, or offensive due to sexual harassment.
For hostile work environment, the law requires that the challenged conduct: 1) be severe or pervasive; 2) be unwelcomed; and has 3) rendered the plaintiff’s work environment both subjectively and objectively hostile/abusive. The more severe, the less pervasive the conduct needs to be. For example, unwelcome “compliments” about the way someone is dressed may need to be more pervasive, whereas one rape is certainly severe enough to meet the standard.
Possible Compensation for a Sexual Harassment Claim
The main goal of compensation is to make the victim “whole,” which means to try to restore them to where they would have been if not for the harassment. Although in some instances, a target of sexual harassment may never feel entirely restored, the law does provide a way to potentially compensate you and bring some consequences to the harasser (or the employer when they do not take complaints seriously).
Some possible compensation includes:
- Back pay
- Being hired for the job you should have gotten
- Getting the promotion you should have gotten
- Job reinstatement
- Pain and suffering damages
- Attorneys’ fees, witness fees, and court costs
Punitive damages may also be awarded beyond what makes the victim whole, as a means of punishing the harasser or their employer for their misdeeds. To see if you may be entitled to compensation, contact a workplace harassment attorney.
Is the Company Responsible for Their Employee’s Sexual Harassment?
For Quid Pro Quo cases, if your supervisor sexually harasses you and takes some “tangible employment action” against you, the company you work for is likely liable for that supervisor’s actions. A tangible employment action means conduct such as not being hired or being fired, demoted, or transferred where you didn’t want to go because you did not submit to sexual harassment.
For a hostile work environment claim, your employer may be held liable for their employee’s actions if they did not take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment or fix it when it arose.
In order to minimize their potential liability in the event one of their employees engages in creating a hostile work environment, a company may have specific reporting policies a victim or survivor must follow when such harassment occurs.
To hold them liable, you must show that your employer knew or should have known about their employee’s actions and did nothing. An employee who doesn’t follow the company’s reporting procedures may impact their ability to pursue their claim in court.[ Back to Top ]
What Is NC’s Unlawful Workplace Harassment Policy?
Employees are protected from workplace harassment in NC based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, or handicap under the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA). The law generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees. According to the Act, discrimination in the workplace “deprives the State of the fullest utilization of its capacities for advancement and development.”
The ban on discrimination applies to both applicants and current employees. Violations of the law may be pursued in court under a “wrongful discharge” claim.
Certain categories of individuals who are protected from workplace harassment may have precise federal laws aimed at ensuring their right to equal opportunity.
Some major applicable laws include:
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Americans With Disabilities Act
- Equal Pay Act
- The Civil Rights Act of 1991
- 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
How to File Harassment Charges in NC
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the primary agency responsible federally and in North Carolina with enforcing laws against harassment in the workplace. If you find yourself in this unacceptable situation, here’s what to do.
A complaint can be filed with the EEOC in-person or by mail. Your in-person appointment can be scheduled by phone or online through the EEOC Public Portal. EEOC offices also accept walk-ins.
There are no specific forms to fill out, just information you want to have on hand to share with EEOC staff. After your interview, an EEOC staff member will prepare your complaint. You will then have the opportunity to review your complaint and sign it. If possible, bring documentation with you to the interview (such as evidence of derogatory comments, complaints to your employer, or a negative performance review you believe resulted from your rejection of advances).
If you apply by mail, be sure to include the following:
- Your information
- Your employer’s information, including the number of people they employ
- The information for any witnesses
- The reason you believe you were harassed (e.g., sex or race)
The heart of your letter should be a description of the incident or incidents. When providing a description and dates the harassment occurred, be as precise as possible.
Note: You must sign your letter. The EEOC will not act on any unsigned letters.
Here are the locations and numbers for the three EEOC offices in North Carolina:
Charlotte District Office
129 West Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Raleigh Area Office
434 Fayetteville Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Greensboro Local Office
1500 Pinecroft Road
Greensboro, NC 27407
Workplace Harassment Statute of Limitations: The Clock Is Ticking
Don’t delay if you were harassed. You generally have 180 days from the time of the discrimination to file a claim with the EEOC. You do not need an attorney to file a claim with the EEOC, but it is advisable to speak with one first.
After you file your charge with the EEOC, they may:
- Ask the parties to engage in mediation
- Investigate your claim further
At the conclusion of the investigation, the EEOC will notify you and your employer of the result. If they find they have enough evidence, they will try to reach a settlement with the offending employer. If a settlement cannot be reached, the EEOC has two options: 1) file a lawsuit against the employer; or 2) issue you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
If the EEOC concludes that it doesn’t have enough evidence, you will be given a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you license to pursue the claim with your attorney privately. Note that, while permission from the EEOC is required before you can pursue a case under federal law, claims arising under state law may bypass the EEOC and head straight to court.
NC OAH, Civil Rights Division
The North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings (NC OAH), Civil Rights Division (CRD) shares responsibility with the EEOC for investigating workplace harassment claims under state law. The EEOC will share charges implicating state law with the CRD, with no additional action required on your part. The two agencies work together to make sure a person alleging harassment has their rights protected under both federal and state law.[ Back to Top ]
Here’s What to Do if You Think It’s Time for a Lawyer
Have you been subjected to harassment in the workplace? These are serious offenses and you may be entitled to compensation.
In fact, these offenses are so serious that we take these cases on a contingency fee basis. That means we don’t get paid any attorney’s fee if we’re unable to recover compensation for you.2
Our employment law department is led by Noël Harlow, who has battled injustice all her life and fights to protect everyday people trying to make an honest living. Throughout Noël’s career, she’s stood up for those who are underrepresented and disadvantaged.
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“I believe power and balance can be righted by the properties of law.”
— Noël Harlow, Employment Law Attorney