In North Carolina, the power to terminate employment rests largely in the hands of the employer. Barring a specific contract signed by both the employer and the employee, an employer has the right to end the employment relationship at any time. Employers don't have to provide any notice to their employees or give any reason for the termination. If an employer decides he no longer wants an employee to work for him, he can fire that employee immediately.
Since state law recognizes the concept of at-will employment, North Carolina employees work only as long as their employer wants them. This relationship goes both ways, however, and the employee can leave at any time as well. As long as employers adhere to state and federal labor and workplace regulations, they can ask employees to do any tasks needed, even things employees might consider demeaning or demoralizing. If an employee doesn't like what her employer is asking her to do, she has little recourse except to quit.
After the termination of employment, an employer owes his former employee all wages he promised. This includes not only payment for hours worked prior to termination, but also payment for accrued sick or vacation time, holiday pay, bonuses or severance pay.
North Carolina law doesn't require employers to make any payment in addition to wages for hours worked. Employers must have a written policy describing in detail any additional payments or benefits, and the conditions under which employees may expect payment of them upon termination. Employers don't have to pay accrued time if the written policy provides that the employee forfeits these benefits on termination.
A terminated employee can expect her final paycheck on the next regular payday. North Carolina law does not require employers to pay it immediately upon termination. The employee can request her final paycheck be mailed to her if she doesn't want to come back to pick it up, and the employer must honor this request.
If the employer and the employee have a dispute about the amount of money owed, the employer must pay at least the portion that isn't in dispute. The employee doesn't forfeit her claim to any other disputed wages by accepting this partial payment.
While North Carolina employers can terminate employees for any reason, that reason must be a legal one. State and federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on factors such as race, sex, religion or disability.
State law also protects employees who engage in certain labor activities, who file a workers' compensation claim, or who participate in the N.C. National Guard. Employees who were fired or demoted because of illegal discrimination or in retaliation because they participated in a protected activity can file a complaint with the N.C. Department of Labor's Employment Discrimination Bureau.
If the EDB determines an employee's claim has merit, the Bureau assists in recovering lost wages and benefits or having the employee reinstated.
- N.C. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Act
- N.C. Department of Labor: Handy Reference Guide to the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act
- N.C. Department of Labor: Promised Wages Including Wage Benefits
- N.C. Department of Labor: Employment-At-Will
- N.C. Department of Labor: Employment Discrimination Bureau: Frequently Asked Questions
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.