North Carolina law prohibits retaliation against workers who may file work-related injury claims and reveal safety hazards and wage-and-hours violations. But the state’s weak enforcement record on this Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act jeopardizes workers’ compensation and other worker rights.
REDA was passed one year after North Carolina’s worst workplace accident. A fire killed 25 workers trapped in a chicken processing plant in Hamlet in 1992. That plant’s fire doors were chained to discourage theft.
Under REDA, the state labor department may investigate charges that workers were wrongly fired or punished if they may file a potential injury claim or for protesting or revealing workplace hazards or wage violations. The department may also file civil suits against employers on behalf of aggrieved employees.
The labor department must share allegations with employers in each of the hundreds of REDA complaints it receives yearly and investigate the facts for up to 90 days. The department may dismiss complaints as being unfounded or try to mediate a settlement. Unless a settlement is negotiated, the labor department must issue letters authorizing complaining workers to sue their employers regardless of the strength of their charges.
The current labor department commissioner is serving his fifth term. Even though the department received over 10,000 REDA complaints since he assumed office, the department and the state’s attorney general’s office bought only one retaliation case on a worker’s behalf.
The department also restricted worker actions by its limited issuance of right to sue letters. Over nine years and thousands of complaints, the department issued only 127 right to sue letters with a merit endorsement which can help worker litigants in court.
The budget for the bureau responsible for REDA enforcement dropped to $618,000 in 2007. This was a 25 percent decrease from 1999.
In 2011, the state legislature joined at least 30 other states and reduced worker compensation protections. It restricted benefits to 500 weeks for most injured workers and added eligibility requirements. In 2013 and 2016, legislation took civil service protection away from workers’ compensation hearing officer and shortened their terms.
Weak REDA enforcement multiplies the impact of these changes. REDA also provides some protection in North Carolina where employers have few restrictions over firing workers.
An attorney can help assure that you may pursue your workers’ compensation claim. Without legal assistance, you may surrender important rights.