What To Know About At-Will Employment in North Carolina

Understanding your rights as an employee in North Carolina can be complicated. Here’s what to know about at-will employment in North Carolina.

North Carolina is one of many states that has adopted employment at-will laws. Employers in North Carolina have the right to fire employees at any time for any reason. Important exceptions exist, however, regarding lawful at-will termination.

Termination Clauses

Termination clauses dictate on what grounds an employer may fire their employee. Understanding the differences between different termination terms is crucial for an employee so they can distinguish between lawful and unlawful termination.

Termination clauses fall into one of the following categories:

  • At-will
  • Good cause/just cause
  • Term contract
  • Notice
  • Good reason
  • Silence

Related: North Carolina Wage Claim FAQs


At-will employment means an employer may fire an employee at any time, without notice, and for any reason or no reason as long as the reason is not unlawful.

Wrongful At-Will Termination

There are various exceptions to North Carolina’s at-will employee doctrine including:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Public Policy

Breach of Contract

Many employee contracts include termination clauses that establish workers as not at-will employees. In these cases, firing someone at-will for a reason not laid out as valid in the contract constitutes a breach of contract and constitutes unlawful termination.


Discrimination on the basis of factors like religion, gender, or age as well as retaliation are unlawful reasons for firing an at-will employee.


Firing an individual at-will as an act of retaliation is unlawful.

Related: How to Collect Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina

Public Policy

North Carolina companies cannot lawfully terminate an individual when that termination goes against state public policy. For example, since injured employees in North Carolina are entitled to workers compensation and health benefits, firing an individual for filing a workers compensation claim is unlawful.

FAQs about At-Will Employment in North Carolina

What Damages are Available to Those who Have Been Unlawfully Terminated At-Will?

Victims of unlawful at-will termination may be entitled to:

  • Compensatory Damages
  • Punitive Damages
  • Back Pay
  • Front Pay
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Reinstatement
  • Court-related costs (attorney’s fees, etc.)

Do North Carolina Labor Laws Assume All Employment is At-Will?

North Carolina labor laws assume all employment is at-will unless stated otherwise in an employment contract.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about At-Will Employment North Carolina, get your free consultation with one of our Employment Attorneys in North Carolina today!