North Carolina Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower Laws as they apply to the state of North Carolina

A Summary of North Carolina Whistleblower Laws

North Carolina follows the employment-at-will doctrine. This means employers can discharge their employees for any reason or no reason. However, North Carolina has a few exceptions to this doctrine that are used to protect employees from wrongful retaliation. They include common law protections and statutory protections. Common law protections are laws that are created by courts to address specific subject areas that are not covered by enacted laws whereas statutory protections are laws that are enacted by the state’s legislature to address specific subject areas, e.g., discrimination in employment.

This is a summary of North Carolina Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in North Carolina

Common Law Protections for Whistleblowers in North Carolina

North Carolina has a public policy that is applied as an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. Therefore, it is illegal for employers to discharge an employee for reasons that violate public policy. To determine whether an employee is eligible for protection under the state’s public policy, the courts usually rely on statutory protections, constitutional provisions, and prior judicial opinions. For example, if a statute endorses a worker’s right to collect a wage not less than the minimum wage, an employer who discharges an employee in retaliation for exercising such a right may be found guilty of violating public policy. Generally, North Carolina protects employees who engage in the following activities from wrongful discharge:

  • Refusing to participate in illegal activities.
  • Assisting in an investigation concerning criminal activities.
  • Refusing to commit perjury.
  • Refusing to work for wages less than the minimum wage.

Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in North Carolina

Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act

No person is allowed to in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for carrying out or threatening to carry out the following activities in good faith:

  1. Filing a complaint or claim, initiating a proceeding, investigation, inspection, proceeding or other action, or testifying or providing information concerning the following statutes to any person:
  2. Wage and Hour Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-25.1.
  3. Occupational Safety and Health Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-126.
  4. Statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sickle cell trait or hemoglobin C trait. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-28.1.
  5. National Guard Employment Rights laws.
  6. Mine Safety and Health Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 74-24.1.
  7. Statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of information obtained from genetic testing. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-28.1A.
  8. Workers’ Compensation Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-1.
  1. Exercising a right endorsed by the following statutes on behalf of himself, herself, or others:
  2. Wage and Hour Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-25.1.
  3. Mine Safety and Health Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 74-24.1.
  4. Occupational Safety and Health Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-125.
  1. Complying with the provisions of North Carolina’s juvenile code.
  2. Exercising rights under North Carolina’s domestic violence laws.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-241.

Public Employees

No state department, agency, institution, or state employee with supervisory authority is allowed to discharge, threaten, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against a public employee in retaliation for:

  • Reporting a violation of state or federal law, rule, or regulation.
  • Reporting a waste of resources.
  • Reporting gross mismanagement.
  • Reporting the existence of a danger to public health and safety.
  • Refusing to carry out a directive that would result in a violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 126-85.

Persons With Disabilities Protection Act

Employers are not allowed to discharge, refuse to hire, expel or in any way discriminate against an individual in retaliation for:

  • Opposing discriminatory practices deemed unlawful by this act.
  • Testifying or participating in a proceeding under this act.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 168A-10.

Retirement

Local employers who participate in the state’s retirement system are not allowed to discharge, harass, demote, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Providing information concerning violations of retirement law to the Retirement Systems Division.
  • Cooperating with the Retirement Systems Division’s investigation of a violation of retirement law.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 128-38.6.

Toxic or Hazardous Substances

Employers are not allowed to discharge, discipline, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Assisting the commissioner of labor or the fire chief who is making or is planning to make an inspection.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this statute.
  • Exercising a right related to toxic or hazardous substances.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-196.

Employment Security Act (ESA)

No person is allowed to threaten, discharge, or demote any person in retaliation for testifying or being summoned to testify in a proceeding under this act. ESA is an act that was established to manage the unemployment insurance program in North Carolina. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 96-15.1.

Sexual Harassment Concerning School Employees

No local board of education or employee of a local board is allowed to discharge, threaten or in any way discriminate against another employee of a board in retaliation for filing a complaint concerning sexual harassment by students or other school personnel. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-335.5.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in North Carolina

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, retaliation claims should be filed with the appropriate court within 3 years of the retaliatory action.

Public Employees

Lawsuitsunder this statute should be filed with the appropriate court within 1 year of the retaliation.

Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the North Carolina Department of Labor, Employment Discrimination Bureau (EDB) within 180 days of the retaliatory action. If the bureau determines that a wrongful retaliation was carried out against the employee, the bureau may try to resolve the violation through its internal procedures. If this fails, the bureau may grant the aggrieved employee a right-to-sue letter or file a lawsuit on behalf of the employee. Aggrieved employees have a right to request a right-to-sue letter after 180 days of filing the complaint unless the bureau has already filed a lawsuit on behalf of the employee. Lawsuits should be filed in the appropriate court within 90 days of receiving the right-to-sue letter.

Persons With Disabilities Protection Act

Lawsuits under this statute should be filed with the appropriate court within 180 days of the retaliation. Aggrieved persons can also choose to file a lawsuit or commence administrative proceedings under federal law, however, they will not be allowed to file any lawsuit under this act in a state court.

Employment Security Act (ESA)

Lawsuitsunder this statute should be filed with the appropriate court within 1 year of the retaliation.

Whistleblower Hotlines in North Carolina

To file a complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor, call 1-800-625-2267.

Whistleblower Retaliation and Violation Penalties in North Carolina

Unless stated otherwise by statute, employers who carry out unlawful retaliation against an employee may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Injunctive relief.
  • Reinstatement to the previous job position.
  • Payment of back wages.
  • Reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Plus any other relief deemed appropriate.

Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act

Employers who violate this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • An injunction to stop the continued violation of this statute.
  • Reinstatement of the employee to the previous job position or equivalent position.
  • Reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Compensation for lost wages, lost benefits, and other economic losses that were approximately caused by the retaliatory action. In case of injuries caused by a willful violation, the compensation awarded may be trebled by the court.

Persons With Disabilities Protection Act

Employers who violate this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Declaratory and injunctive relief.
  • Hiring or reinstatement of the complainant.
  • Back pay.

Back pay will not accrue for more than 2 years after the filing of the complaint. Also, interim earnings or amounts earnable with reasonable diligence by the aggrieved person shall be used to reduce the amount of back pay awarded.

Employment Security Act (ESA)

Employers who violate this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for reasonable damages suffered as a result of the violation and reinstatement to the previous job position.

Public Employees

Employers who violate this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following:

  • Injunction.
  • Damages.
  • Reinstatement.
  • Payment of back wages.
  • Reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

Retirement

Employers who violate this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Reinstatement with the same seniority status.
  • Two times the amount of back pay.
  • Interest on back pay.
  • Special damages, e.g., litigation costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

More North Carolina Laws

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