The term "employment-at-will" simply means that unless there is a specific law to protect employees or there is an employment contract providing otherwise, then an employer can treat its employees as it sees fit (including the assignment of demeaning tasks) and the employer can discharge an employee at the will of the employer for any reason or no reason at all. It is also up to each employer to decide if its employees may see their own personnel file or not.
The most common protected categories are those that protect an employee's civil rights based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin, color, disability [including the Americans with Disabilities Act], or pregnancy. For questions or information on these protected categories, you need to contact the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1-800-669-4000 (toll-free) to be connected to your local EEOC office.
Another protected category is under the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act, which is administered by the Department of Labor's Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau. REDA protects against retaliation by an employer when an employee engages in activities protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, and Workers Compensation Act, as well as for carrying the sickle cell trait, use of genetic testing information, participating in the North Carolina National Guard, and participating in the juvenile court system concerning the employee's child. The Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau can be reached at the telephone numbers listed below.
If the discrimination or unfair treatment is not based on one of the factors listed above, then you need to consult with a private attorney. If you do not have an attorney or know of one to contact, you may contact the North Carolina Lawyer Referral Service at 919-677-8574 to be referred to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for free legal advice through a Legal Aid Services office in your area. You need to contact their Central Office in Raleigh at 919-856-2564 for information on local offices throughout the state.
For more information about workplace rights, please contact our toll free number at 1-800-NC-LABOR (800-625-2267).