Federal laws covering issues ranging from discrimination to safety protect workers in the United States. Some issues—mainly the minimum wage—vary by state. Here's an overview of the situation in North Carolina.
It's illegal to discriminate against someone based on factors such as age, gender or race, and these laws apply as soon as the job opening is posted. For example, ads can't express a preference for women or applicants without children. During interviews, employers can't ask an applicant's age or religious preference. Though it's illegal to refuse to hire people with disabilities, it's perfectly permissible to ask applicants to perform certain tasks—say, lift 50 pounds—if the job legitimately requires it.
North Carolina's minimum wage is $7.25 for most workers. Tipped employees can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour, though employers must make up the difference if workers don't bring in enough tips to reach minimum wage per hour. Workers who exceed 40 hours in a workweek must be paid at time and a half pay their usual rate for additional hours. Compensatory time off is not allowed.
Safe on the Job
North Carolina operates its own on-the-job safety program—its laws are stricter than federal standards in areas such as electrical generation and some aspects of agriculture and construction. In addition to covering issues such as building and equipment safety, the state's laws also address issues such as migrant worker camps. Employees can report problems with training, procedures or facilities, and companies aren't allowed to retaliate.
All companies with three or more employees must carry workers' compensation insurance. If the work involves exposure to radiation, companies with only a single employee must be covered. Most businesses purchase the policies, but some bigger companies self-insure. The insurance covers about two-thirds of the lost wages up to $816 a week and medical and rehabilitation expenses for workers injured on the job.
Employers don't have to allow time off for holidays, vacation or illnesses. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires unpaid sick leave, but that law covers only companies and businesses with 50 or more employees. North Carolinians aren't guaranteed pay for jury duty, but they can't be fired or demoted for serving.
Harassment is illegal if it's made a condition of keeping a job or if it's so severe that a reasonable person would object. It includes actions as well as words—an insulting poster can be just as illegal as a sexist comments. Harassing comments also can include jokes or insults—anything based on gender, national origin, race, age or disability. Those who are harassed can take legal action.
Because North Carolina is an "at will" state, employees can leave or employers can let them go for any or no reason and with no notice. Final wages are due on the next scheduled payday.
Out of Work
Workers who are laid off, fired or see their hours reduced can draw unemployment unless they were let go for misconduct. Those who worked for companies with more than 20 employees can continue any health insurance coverage they carried while working, though they have to pay the full premiums.
Contacting a Labor Lawyer
This article is a general look at a complicated topic. Consult a local employment attorney in North Carolina if you need advice about a specific employment law question.