Employment Law

A myriad of issues, problems and opportunities face employees today. From racial discrimination to sexual harassment, the employment law attorneys at Merritt Webb are experienced in virtually all aspects of employment law and advise clients every day in matters involving the following North Carolina and Federal employment laws.

Employment at Will

Most employment relationships in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are governed by the employment at will doctrine. In the absence of a contractual agreement between an employer and an employee establishing a definite term of employment, the relationship is presumed to be terminable at the will of either party without regard to the quality of performance of either party. Generally, either party to an employment at will contract can terminate the contract at will for no reason at all, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason. Federal and state statutes have created exceptions prohibiting employers from discharging employees based on impermissible considerations such as the employee’s age, race, sex, religion, national origin, or disability, or in retaliation for filing certain claims against the employer.

In North Carolina, there are a few limited exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. The parties can contract for a definite period of employment, and thereby remove the at-will presumption.The North Carolina Supreme Court has also recognized a public-policy exception to the employment-at-will rule.


Discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, national origin, religion, or disability is illegal. Learn more about the laws that govern discrimination in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is a common form of harassment which includes: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature where submission to such a conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of employment or submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with one’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.  Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Employers may not harass or allow their employees to be harassed. Learn more about sexual harassment. Discrimination against persons based on genetics testing or genetic information.


Wrongful Discharge or Retaliation

Many state and federal laws have specific sections that make it illegal to discipline or discharge employees in retaliation for exercising rights guaranteed to them by those laws or the state and federal constitutions. For example, it is against the law for employers to discipline or discharge employees for exercising constitutional rights guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions, for taking or requesting leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim or for filing Bankruptcy under the US Bankruptcy laws.

In North Carolina, employers are covered by the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (“REDA”), which prohibits discrimination or retaliation against an employee because the employee in good faith does or threatens to file a claim or complaint, initiate any inquiry, investigation, inspection, proceeding or other action, or testify or provide information to any person with respect to any of the following:

  • Worker’s compensation claims
  • Wage & Hour Act claims or OSHA claims
  • Mine Safety & Health Act claims
  • Discrimination against person possessing sickle cell trait or hemoglobin C trait
  • National Guard Service

Discrimination against persons based on genetics testing or genetic information.

REDA also prohibits discrimination or retaliation against any employee who is complying with the law regarding the Authority over Parents of Juveniles Adjudicated Delinquent or Undisciplined, such as court appearances and parental responsibility classes. An employer can still discharge or take any other unfavorable action with respect to an employee who has engaged in protected activity under REDA, if the employer proves by the greater weight of the evidence that it would have taken the same unfavorable action in the absence of the protected activity of the employee. In order for an employee to prevail on a claim under REDA, the employee must prove that retaliatory motive was a substantial factor in the adverse employment actions taken by the defendant. REDA does not prohibit an employer from terminating an employee who engages in protected activity, but instead only prohibits those discharges made because of the exercise of protected activity, and the employee has the burden of proof in a REDA case.

In addition to the actions prohibited under REDA, North Carolina state law prohibits discrimination, including discharge of an employee because of the following reasons:

  • Serving on a jury;
  • Testifying at an Employment Security Commission proceeding;
  • Because the employee is not a union member or has refused to participate in labor union activity;
  • Has a disability;
  • Is infected with HIV or the AIDS virus;
  • Is of a particular race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or disability;
  • Has used lawful products off work premises during non-working hours;
  • Has participated in military service.

In South Carolina, A claim for retaliatory discharge for filing a workers’ compensation claim must be filed within one year of the discharge. Other examples of protected rights or issues giving rise to wrongful termination claims include termination for joining or forming unions, serving on jury duty, filing a complaint with South Carolina Human Affairs Commission or the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission, filing a complaint with the South Carolina Department of Labor, filing an OSHA complaint, requesting information concerning toxic substances in the workplace, requesting military duty leave, and appearing in court as a witness.

In Tennessee, A claim for wrongful termination or retaliatory discharge must be filed within one year of the discharge if the employee was at will and within three years if the employee was under contract.

North Carolina: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Filing deadlines under the discrimination and harassment statutes are short and strictly enforced. A complainant must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation of the law. This 180-day filing deadline is extended to 300 days if the charge is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law and a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) is responsible for enforcing those state or local laws. For ADEA charges, only state laws extend the filing deadline to 300 days. In North Carolina, the EEOC has offices in Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh.

Talk to an employment law attorney at Merritt Webb for advice on employment or labor law issues and your specific situation. If you need our help for such a claim, call us at 1.800.556.8404.

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Website responsibility: The attorneys responsible for this site are Joy Rhyne Webb (NC), 2525 Meridian Parkway, Suite 300, Durham, NC 27713 and Heather Caruso (SC, TN), 8910 Two Notch Road, Suite 400, Columbia, SC 29223.