What is “at-will” employment?

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“At-will” employment means that an employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause or notice, as long as it does not violate any state or federal laws. In North Carolina, as in most states, employment is presumed to be at-will unless there is an employment contract that specifies otherwise. This means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time, and likewise, an employee can quit at any time.

However, there are some exceptions to at-will employment in North Carolina. For example, it is illegal to terminate an employee for discriminatory reasons, such as race, gender, age, or disability. Additionally, if an employer makes any promises or representations to an employee that contradict the at-will employment presumption, such as an offer of guaranteed employment for a certain period of time, then the employment relationship may be considered a contractual one.

It’s important to note that at-will employment can be both beneficial and risky for both employers and employees. Employers have flexibility in managing their workforce and can easily adjust to changes in their business needs. However, employees may feel vulnerable without job security and may be hesitant to report workplace concerns out of fear of retaliation. Therefore, it’s important to understand the rights and obligations that come with at-will employment in North Carolina.

Will Blackton is a business lawyer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can reach Will at wblackton@bobllaw.com or (919) 636-5979.

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