Understanding Employee Rights: An Overview of the Basics

October 31, 2023

All employees are entitled to certain workplace protections. Confusion can sometimes arise, however, in regard to what rights an employee does and does not have. Having a better understanding of these rights can help you understand whether your current working environment is treating you with the respect you deserve. This article is written to provide an overview of the basic rights enjoyed by North Carolina employees. If you are in need of assistance, contact a Charlotte employment attorney.

Certain Rights Are Enjoyed By All Employees

Certain rights are guaranteed to all employees under both North Carolina and federal laws. These rights include the following:

The Right Against Discrimination

Employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, or some other characteristic. These protections mean an employer cannot refuse to hire an employee for a discriminatory reason. They also may not fire, refuse to promote, or otherwise punish an employee for such a purpose. An employer need not explicitly state that their actions are based on a discriminatory intent. If the evidence shows that an employer was discriminating, then an employee will have recourse regardless of what the employer claims their motivations were.

The Right Against Sexual Harassment

Individuals are permitted to come to work and be free of sexual harassment. Such harassment occurs when an employer permits the making of unwelcome sexual advances, remarks, or other acts that make the workplace uncomfortable. More extreme cases of sexual harassment involve the conditioning of employment, promotions, or pay raises upon the return of sexual favors. 

While the aforementioned acts will constitute harassment, it must also be understood that an individual asking their co-worker on a date, by itself, will not be considered harassment. Repeated requests after the co-worker has refused the offer would be considered improper. Also, sexual harassment is not gender-specific. By this, we mean that anyone from one gender can harass someone from another gender, and one can also harass a member of their own gender.

The Right Against Retaliation

Employers may not terminate, demote, or otherwise punish workers for retaliatory reasons. Examples of employers acting in retaliation against an employee can include firing the worker because they reported illegal activity in the workplace, because the worker reported sexual harassment, because they filed a worker’s compensation claim, etc. Retaliation can also include demoting a worker, reducing their pay, or changing their hours to a more unfavorable schedule.

The Right to be Paid

All workers have a right to be compensated for hours worked or labor performed. This includes all hourly wages, overtime pay, as well as accrued benefits. Unfortunately, employers sometimes attempt to withhold a worker’s paycheck, to require unpaid work, or to not provide an employee with vested benefits.

North Carolina is an “At-Will” Employment State

There is often a belief amongst workers that they cannot be fired as long as they are properly performing their jobs. Some also believe that they have an inherent right to their employment. The truth, however, is that North Carolina is an “at-will” employment state. This means that an employer may fire a worker at any time without reason. A worker will only be entitled to recourse against the employer if the firing was due to a reason that is protected under the law.

The Potential Responses to a Workplace Violation

If a worker has been treated improperly by their employer, they have potential responses available to them. These remedies include the following.

Filing a Complaint with the EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that deals with claims of discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC may reach an agreement with the employer to correct the problem, or, in some instances, they may sue the employer on behalf of the employee. 

File a Lawsuit

Employees may bring a lawsuit directly against their employer. Depending on the nature of the claims, the case may be filed in state or federal court. Deciding where to file the action will depend on the facts of the situation and which forum best fits your situation. An experienced employment law attorney will assist you in determining the best forum to bring your case.

Reach a Private Settlement

It may be possible to reach a private settlement with your employer without having to file either an EEOC claim or a lawsuit. Doing so can allow you to put the matter behind you more quickly. It can also prevent a great deal of stress, frustration, and time being put towards litigation. It is strongly suggested that you retain a lawyer as opposed to attempting to settle with the employer yourself.

Potential Remedies For Workplace Violations

If a worker’s rights have been violated, they may be entitled to lost wages, the value of lost benefits, expenses incurred in finding new employment (including moving costs), compensation for emotional distress, as well as legal fees. It may also be possible to gain compensation for harm to your reputation which has been caused by an illegal firing. Such harm may make it difficult to obtain new employment, to gain promotions in a new job, etc. The amount of damages available to an employee will always depend on the specifics of the case.

Contact a Charlotte Employment Attorney If Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you are a North Carolina employee and you believe that your rights have been violated, it is important that you contact a lawyer immediately. You only have a limited amount of time in which you can take action. If you miss this window, then you will be barred from gaining the compensation which you deserve. The Fuller Firm believes strongly in standing up for the rights of workers over those of companies. We strive to provide quality representation, and we look forward to speaking with you. Contact us online or call us at (704) 659-5600 to speak with a Charlotte employment attorney.