Anthony Privette, a respected North Carolina employment lawyer, has successfully represented numerous employers and employees in work-related issues throughout North Carolina in the federal courts and regulatory agencies. Mr. Privette is well-versed in all aspects of employment law, including issues of discrimination, unemployment benefits, and drafting employee handbooks.
Americans cherish the opportunity to make a living and thrive at work. It is not surprising that during difficult economic times, more employment-related issues arise. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates that 93,277 complaints of discrimination were filed in 2009. Claims for unemployment benefits also reached a record high. Employment issues may arise where there is alleged discrimination based on protected characteristics. Protected traits include race, religion, national origin, sex, gender, and disability. Federal and state law forbid unfair employment practices, like hiring, firing, promoting, and giving or withholding other employment benefits based on these characteristics.
Examples of conduct that can trigger legal employment and labor law claims by current and former employees include:
- Sexual harassment
- Pregnancy discrimination
- Age and disability discrimination
- Retaliation for filing a complaint
- Wage and hour disputes
- Workmen’s compensation disputes
- Failure to award overtime or disability
- Unemployment benefits
- Employment contract disputes
- Disagreement over scope of employment
- Terms of binding arbitration
- Interpretation of employee handbook
- Covenants not to compete
North Carolina law provides protections for both sides in employment-related disputes. Section 7A-759 of the North Carolina General Statutes designates the Office of Administrative Hearings as the state agency responsible for cases deferred by the EEOC. The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
North Carolina’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) also works with the EEOC to guarantee fair employment practices in the state. Employees alleging employment discrimination must first file legal charges with the CRD before they can proceed in court. Any charge filed with the CRD is “dually filed” with the EEOC, ensuring the claimant’s rights are protected under federal and state law. Employees must file the charge within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation or forfeit their right to relief. Once they receive a notice from the EEOC of a “right to sue,” employees have 90 days to file an employment discrimination lawsuit in court.
Another common employment issue involves disputes over unemployment benefits. North Carolina’s unemployment insurance program provides temporary economic benefits to eligible workers. To be eligible, individuals must meet the following criteria:
- Lost their jobs through no fault of their own
- Worked for a specified period, receiving a minimum amount of wages
- Are available for work and actively seeking new employment
The Social Security Act of 1935 and Chapter 96 of the General Statutes set forth rules for administering unemployment benefits in North Carolina. The two basic types of unemployment benefits are “separated” and “attached.” Employers are not required to provide notice to employees who are permanently separated from their payroll or workforce. Attached employment or “temporary layoff” occurs when the employee works less than 60% of the customarily scheduled work hours but retains some attachment to the payroll because the employer could not provide full-time work. Individuals who are not eligible for unemployment benefits include independent contractors, spouses or children of individual business owners, church employees, students working for academic credit, and other exempt employees.
In order to minimize employment-related disputes, employers should clearly set forth the rights and benefits of all parties in the employee handbook. A well-drafted handbook provides the general rules applicable to the workplace, the intended scope of employment, the nature and extent of various employee benefits, and the process of resolving disputes. Employers can periodically revise handbooks to include new arbitration terms and amendments to employment policies, such as sick and vacation leave.
Because North Carolina is an “at-will” state, the employment relationship may be terminated by either party at any time. Employment contracts provide an exception. If the employee handbook is made part of the employment contract and contains procedures limiting discharge, these terms may be enforceable against the employer.
If you need help with an employment law issue, an experienced North Carolina employment law attorney can help. Anthony Privette has successfully handled a wide variety of employment law cases, including claims involving discrimination, unemployment benefits, and employee handbook issues. He has helped numerous employers and employees throughout North Carolina resolve their workplace disputes. For a confidential consultation, call Mr. Privette at (704) 872-8125. We look forward to providing you with prompt and dedicated representation.