Losing a job. Wrongful termination claims in North Carolina.

OVERVIEW – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Many times when you lose your job, the first reaction is, “I’ll sue the %#@*&s !!”
That’s an understandable reaction. But it may not be the best way to protect your interests or solve your problems. It may not be the FIRST thing you need to do.

When I see a client after a job termination, we discuss:

  • Are there potential legal claims under federal or North Carolina law?
  • Are there complaints than can and/or should be filed with state or local agencies?
  • Are there internal grievance procedures that the employee should exhaust first?

We also talk about:

  • where is the evidence for the potential claim going to come from?
  • Are there current employees who might serve as witnesses?
  • what are the best ways of encouraging the witnesses to come forward?

And we discuss:

  • will there be a meaningful opportunity to negotiate with the employer?
  • What can we do to make sure your job references are truthful and accurate?
  • When is the best time to take action?

Can my employer fire me without notice?

Yes, in most circumstances.

Two exceptions: You have a written contract that says you have to be given notice OR You are a state or other government employee with “career status.”

Employees who can be terminated without notice are called “at-will employees.” Click here to find out more about the at-will employment relationship.

Can I be fired even though I was doing a good job?

Yes, in most circumstances.
Some exceptions:

  • If there is a written contract stating that termination can only be “for cause,”
  • You are a state or governmental employee protected by the provisions of the State Personnel Act.

Employees who can be terminated “without cause” are called “at-will employees.” However, even in an at-will employment relationship, an employer cannot violate federal anti-discrimination laws and an employer cannot terminate an employee who refuses to violate a state law. The latter instance is called a common law wrongful discharge claim. Click here to learn more about a common law claim.

What protections do North Carolina government employees have from unjust firing?

  • The State Personnel Act: Most North Carolina State employees, as well as some county employees, are protected by the State Personnel Act, which includes prohibitions against discrimination and against termination without just. Click here to find out more about the State Personnel Act.
  • State Personnel Act employees may sue in federal court for violations of some federal laws, including violations of the Civil Rights Act. Consult your employee handbook (which most state agencies how put online) to determine whether the State Personnel Act applies to you.
  • County and city employees may have similar protections under county and city ordinances. Consult your employee handbook to determine whether there is an appeal policy that applies to you.

Is there such a thing as “wrongful termination” in North Carolina?

Yes.

  • North Carolina employers cannot violated federal discrimination laws; (please see the section on discrimination on this site)
  • North Carolina’s Retaliation in Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who exercise their rights under the Workers Compensation law, North Carolina’s Wage and Hour Act, who complain to OSHA about safety violations in the workplace.
  • A Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy claim applies in some cases. The Courts of North Carolina have ruled that an employer may not terminate an employee for reasons that would violate the stated policies of the state of North Carolina. For instance, an employer may not terminate an employee who:
  • Refuses to lie under oath;
  • Refuses to violate the Nursing Practices Act, or,
  • Refuses to falsify information reported to the government.

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