Many of those employed in North Carolina are familiar with the term “at-will employment.” However, what exactly does this term mean? The phrase “at-will” means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason. This remains the case even if the reason for termination is inaccurate, or if there is no reason at all.
As with most things, there are exceptions to the “at-will” rule. Three of the most common exceptions include:
- An employment contract that specifies the terms and conditions of employment, which also limits the employer’s ability to fire the employee “at-will;”
- A termination which violates state and/or federal statutes; and
- A termination that violates a specific public policy.
In addition, although many employers provide their employees with a copy of the company’s employee handbook, the handbook rarely serves as an employment contract. Two major types of employment contracts are:
- Individual contracts; and
- Collective bargaining agreements/union contracts.
If you are terminated, you may wonder if your termination was in violation of an employment statute. The most common violations of state and federal employment statutes are:
- A termination based on the discrimination of someone due to their race, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, citizenship status, and age;
- A termination that is retaliation for an employee for taking a leave of absence for a serious medical condition;
- A termination that is retaliation for having complained about workplace safety or a work injury; and
- A termination that is retaliation for an employee’s complaint about wage violations or having filed a wage complaint.
There is no all-inclusive list that contains every possible kind of terminations that violate public policy.
If you believe that you have been unlawfully terminated, it is best to consult an attorney as soon as possible in order to determine the options available to you.