What does “employment-at-will” mean?

Employment at will


North Carolina is an “employment at-will” state. This means that a private employer may discharge an employee, with or without notice, for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

First, an employee may not be terminated for an illegal reason. For example, it is illegal to discriminate in employment based on race, gender, age (over 40), disability or national origin. Similarly, an employee may not be discharged for engaging in certain “protected activity”, such as filing a worker’s compensation or wage and hour claim or making an OSHA (or NCOSH) complaint. An employer who terminates and employee for an illegal reason may be subject to a claim for wrongful discharge.

Second, an employer may not discharge an employee for a reason that violates public policy. Although there is no comprehensive definition of public policy, the North Carolina courts have applied this exception where an employee was discharged for refusing to violate the law, or where the employer itself violated the law in discharging the employee.

Third, some employees are protected by collective bargaining agreements which limit an employer’s right to discharge covered employees. Employees subject to collective bargaining agreements will often have other resources, such as union representatives, to consult.

Fourth, while it is relatively rare, some employees have employment contracts that specify the length of time that the employee will remain employed. Employees with this type of agreement may only be terminated in accordance with the terms of the employment contract.

Revolution Law Group is located in Greensboro, NC, and serves individuals and small businesses throughout the Triad and surrounding areas. To contact us please visit Revolution.law or call 336-333-7907.

The information included here is for informational purposes only, is not exhaustive of all considerations when creating documents, is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be relied upon for that purpose. We strongly recommend you consult with an attorney and do not attempt to create your own documents.