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NC Workplace Retaliation Laws: What You Need to Know

The law prohibits employers from taking certain actions at work, like discriminating against or harassing employees or engaging in illegal workplace practices; it also forbids employers who were reported for these things from retaliating against those who report them. Unfortunately, what’s on paper doesn’t always match what’s happening on the ground.

Sometimes, retaliation happens after you report your employer’s unethical behavior, like fraud, violating safety standards, or wage theft. Sometimes, it happens because you’ve “inconvenienced” your boss by requesting disability accommodations, or because you’ve “cost them money” by filing a workers’ compensation claim.

North Carolina workplace retaliation laws only have power if employers are held accountable for violating them. If you’ve been the victim of employer retaliation, contact an employment law attorney for a free case evaluation.

What Defines Employer Retaliation in NC?

Employer retaliation is when an employer fires, demotes, or otherwise makes you suffer consequences at work specifically because you reported them for illegal behavior, requested disability accommodations, filed for workers’ comp, or otherwise exercised your protected rights under the law.

Types of illegal behavior include:

  • Violating wage and hour laws, which require employers to pay for all the time employees work and time and a half for hours worked over 40 hours.
  • Violating state and federal OSHA standards.
  • Violating the North Carolina Mine Safety and Health Act.
  • Failing to reinstate a member of uniformed services such as the Armed Forces to the same or a similar position when they return from duty.
  • Not complying with the North Carolina Pesticide Law by misusing or mishandling pesticides.
  • Inquiring about employees’ genetic, sickle cell, or hemoglobin c carrier status.
  • Failing to allow parents whose children are in the juvenile justice system time to comply with the juvenile court system.
  • Violations of the Drug Paraphernalia Control Act
  • Failing to allow victims of domestic violence time off to seek protective orders.

“Adverse actions” that may count as employment retaliation in NC include:

  • Firing
  • Demotion
  • Suspension
  • Negative evaluation
  • Involuntary department transfer
  • Cutting your pay
  • Cutting your hours
  • Involuntary relocation
  • Reduced responsibilities
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Reporting immigration status
  • Spreading false rumors
  • Altering an employee’s work schedule to conflict with their non-work responsibilities
  • Denying opportunities for professional advancement
  • Scrutinizing one employee more than the others
  • Blacklisting
  • Denying overtime opportunities
Retaliation can happen to prospective employees, too. If a candidate for a job is denied a job they otherwise would have gotten as a means of retaliation, this violates NC workplace retaliation laws.

How Do I Know if I Have Experienced Retaliation?

Retaliation can cover anything your employer does that is “materially adverse.” More specifically, retaliation refers to any action that would deter a reasonable person from doing a protected action. Even if the retaliation has no tangible effect on your employment status, or even if the retaliatory actions take place outside of work, this is a violation of the law.

The key question is this: Would the retaliatory action in question dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in the action that caused the retaliation? For example, would a reasonable person be dissuaded from reporting wage theft if they were demoted for reporting it? Phrasing the question that way can help you know if you’ve experienced retaliation. If you have, an experienced employment law attorney can help you.

What Is the NC Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act?

The Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) shields employees who engage in certain protected activities, such as reporting wage theft or blowing the whistle on fraud. Under NC labor law, retaliation against employees engaging in these activities is strictly forbidden.

Specifically, REDA prohibits retaliation against employees who engage in the following activities (assuming the employee is engaging in good faith):

  • Filing for workers’ compensation
  • Reporting wage theft
  • Reporting Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations
  • Reporting discrimination based on genetic traits
  • Reporting illegal activity such as drug use
  • Taking time off work due to domestic violence
  • Reporting workplace violence
  • Blowing the whistle on fraud
  • Taking medical leave
  • Discussing pay with coworkers
The law protects employees who file a complaint, file a claim, initiate an inquiry, request an investigation, request an inspection, testify, or provide information related to any of the infractions on the list, among others.

REDA complaints may be filed with the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau against a person, an organization, or even a government entity.

The N.C. Department of Labor offers a questionnaire to help you determine if you have a REDA complaint.

How Do I File a Retaliation Claim in NC?

There are four steps to filing a retaliation claim in North Carolina:

  1. Call the Employment Discrimination Bureau at 1-800-625-2267 and describe your situation.
  2. A staff member will decide if it is appropriate to mail you a complaint form.
  3. Return your signed complaint.
  4. Await a determination by the Bureau.

Remember, simply filing out the questionnaire online is not filing a complaint. Make sure to follow up with filing your written complaint form.

The Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau investigates complaints of employer retaliation. If the Bureau finds that the complaint has merit, they will try to work with both parties to reach a settlement and resolve the issue.

If the Bureau finds no violation of REDA, you will be granted the right to pursue a private lawsuit within 90 days. If the Bureau finds merit in the complaint, they will try to resolve the violation by methods such as conference, conciliation, and persuasion.

If that is unsuccessful, they will:

  1. File a civil action in court on your behalf; or
  2. Give you a right-to-sue letter good for 90 days

How Can REDA Resolve My Situation?

REDA can resolve your situation in one of three ways:

  1. Ordering an end to the retaliation
  2. Putting you in the position you would have been in if not for the retaliation, such as reversing the demotion, reinstating your benefits, and restoring your seniority
  3. Forcing the employer to compensate you for anything you lost as a result of retaliation

What Other NC Retaliation Laws Apply?

Common law, or judge-made law, provides another avenue of protection for employees under NC retaliation law. In general, employers can treat their employees as they wish, so long as they are not violating any specific laws. In an employment-at-will state such as North Carolina, employers hold the lion’s share of the leverage.

Common law restores a bit of that leverage to the employee. The courts have said that even in an at-will state, an employer may not fire an employee if the reasoning behind it is inconsistent with “public policy.” Public policy is a broad term and is deduced by the court based on relevant statutes and constitutional provisions.

A judge may determine an employer retaliated unlawfully in violation of public policy if they fire someone for:

  • Refusing to do something illegal
  • Refusing to do something they believed threatened public safety
  • Refusing to commit perjury
  • Refusing to work for less than the minimum wage
  • Cooperating in a criminal investigation

To establish a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, you must show that you:

  • Were engaged in a protected activity like reporting discrimination; or
  • Refused to do something illegal for your employer; or
  • Resisted or opposed illegal activity by your employer; or
  • Were fired because you are a member of a protected class such as sex or religion; and
  • Suffered harms and losses as a direct result of the wrongful discharge

How Is OSHA Involved in Retaliation Claims?

In NC, OSHA investigates retaliation claims within their limited jurisdiction. This jurisdiction is based on the 22 specific statutes that OSHA is charged with enforcing.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act forbids employers to engage in retaliation against an employee for reporting hazardous work conditions. Employees are protected from retaliation whether they report their concerns internally or to OSHA.

Common OSHA-related issues that could lead to retaliation by an employer include:

  • Filing a safety or health complaint
  • Raising a safety or health concern with the employer
  • Providing information as part of an OSHA inspection
  • Reporting a workplace injury or illness
  • Requesting safety data sheets
  • Requesting copies of OSHA regulations

Upon receiving a complaint of retaliation, OSHA will interview the complainant. The goal of the interview is to determine if the allegation warrants an investigation under the statutes OSHA enforces. Complaints can be made orally or in writing.

If OSHA staff find sufficient supporting evidence for the complaint, they will try to reach a voluntary settlement. If this is not successful, they may litigate the case in court.

Possible solutions the Secretary of Labor may seek on your behalf include:

  • Back pay with interest
  • Job reinstatement
  • Compensation for retaliation-related expenses, with interest
  • Compensation for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages

How Much Compensation Can I Get from a Retaliation Case?

If you have suffered job- and career-related consequences for reporting employer misbehavior, you may be entitled to compensation.

Potential damages for employment retaliation include:

  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Future lost wages and benefits
  • Pain and suffering
  • Attorney and court fees
  • Triple or “treble” damages if the employer’s violation is willful

Every case is different. Get a free case evaluation today!

How Can a Workplace Retaliation Lawyer Help Me With My Retaliation Claim?

Being retaliated against by someone in control of your livelihood can be an extremely stressful experience. Retaliation cases in North Carolina can also be very complicated and tricky to prove. An attorney will provide guidance and support as you seek compensation and try to put this all behind you.

Your employer may very well deny that any adverse action against you was taken in retaliation; instead, they will say there was a legitimate, unrelated reason. To defend against this claim, an attorney can help you try to gather evidence establishing the authenticity of your account.

This evidence may include:

  • The timing of the adverse action
  • Discrepancies in how employees were treated in similar circumstances
  • Any verbal or written proof of retaliatory motive
A retaliation claim requires that your employer be aware you engaged in a protected activity.

Why Hire an Attorney at James Scott Farrin to Fight for You?

We’re a plaintiffs’ firm, which means we represent employees, not employers. Since 1997, we’ve helped over 65,000 people recover more than $1.8 billion in total compensation.1

We’re proud to provide each of our clients with the James Scott Farrin Advantage:

  • Experience and skill: Many of our award-winning attorneys have authored books and taught seminars for other attorneys and are recognized professionals in their fields.
  • Inside knowledge: Many of our attorneys and paralegals used to work for defense firms, and we may be able to use that “other side experience” to your benefit.
  • No attorney’s fee if you don’t win: If we don’t collect compensation for you, we don’t collect an attorney’s fee.2 We believe in our clients and we believe in our attorneys.
  • No waiting around: We’ve invested heavily in proprietary technology to try to make sure your case never lingers.

Retaliation cases are critical, not just for the employee bringing the claim but for the long-term protection of all North Carolina employees. If you’ve been retaliated against, don’t delay. Call us at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online for a free case evaluation. Tell them you mean business.

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