At-Will Versus Right-to-Work States

Employment laws regarding an employee’s “right-to-work” and “at-will” status vary from one state to another and can change over time. Do you know the legal implications of these phrases? The Noble Law Firm highlights some of the key aspects of each to help you navigate the applicable employment laws across the Carolinas.

Our lawyers can help you understand your rights as an employee and advocate for you if your employer violates them. For help with your employment situation, schedule a consultation with our North or South Carolina offices.


The Differences Between At-Will and Right-to-Work States

People might think the phrases “right-to-work” and “at-will” are interchangeable, but this is not the case. While both phrases refer to an employee’s relationship with their place of employment, each phrase applies to a different aspect of that relationship.

In states where employment is “at will,” an employer has the right to fire its employees or alter their pay, bonuses, and other benefits at any time for any reason that: does not (1) violate applicable federal or State law; and/or (2) breach a valid employment contract that guarantees employment for a specific term. Another important aspect of “at-will” employment is that an employee can quit at any time for any reason.

While “at-will” employment concerns the relationship between an employer and employee, an employee’s “right to work” also considers an employee’s relationship with a union. This phrase refers to an employee’s right to employment regardless of their union affiliation. In right-to-work states, an employee can be covered under a union contract even if the employee is not a member of the union and/or does not pay union dues. 

Are North Carolina and South Carolina At-Will States?

Yes. Both states have adopted employment-at-will laws. This means that employers can fire employees at any time and for any legal reason. But even with these laws in place, there are important exceptions under federal and State law, including, but not limited to:

  • Discrimination: Federal and State employment laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of specified protected classes. Applicable Federal laws include:
    • Prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.
    • genetic information.
  • Retaliation: Federal and State employment laws also protect employees who report or oppose unlawful behavior in the workplace—such as discrimination—from retaliation by their employer. An employer cannot retaliate against an employee who engaged in protected activity if the employer disciplines, demotes, and/or terminates an employee because of their protected activity. 

Are North Carolina and South Carolina Right-to-Work States?

Yes. Right-to-work laws have been enacted in North Carolina and South Carolina. In both states, an employer cannot require employees to join a union as a condition to being hired or keeping their job. If you feel you were treated unfairly at work based on your labor union membership status, contact a North Carolina or South Carolina employment law firm as soon as you can.

More Questions About At-Will and Right-to-Work in the Carolinas? The Noble Law Has Answers

Regardless of which state you’re located in and whether or not your workplace is unionized, unfair treatment at your place of business demands a legal response. The employment attorneys of The Noble Law Firm have the experience and skill necessary to challenge the folks running your organization and get them to correct course. Please call us today for a case evaluation.

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