Public Policy Exception North Carolina
The public policy exception allows an at-will employee "discharged from his employment in retaliation for:
(1) his refusal to perform an act prohibited by law, or;
(2) his performance of an act required by law" to bring a common law tort claim for wrongful discharge. Hogan v. Forsyth Country Club Co., 79 N.C. App. 483, 498, 340 S.E.2d 116, 126 (1986);
See also Lorbacher v. Housing Auth. of City of Raleigh, 127 N.C. App. 663, 672, 493 S.E.2d 74, 79 (1997), implicitly overruled on other grounds by, Riley v. DeBaer, 144 N.C. App. 357, 547 S.E.2d 831 (2001) ("A valid claim for wrongful discharge exists when an at-will employee is discharged for an unlawful reason or in contravention of public policy.").
"Otherwise . . . an employee at will may be discharged, with or without cause, at anytime, unless his discharge is expressly prohibited by statute." Id.
The public policy exception has been narrowly applied. Williams v. Hillhaven Corp., 91 N.C. App. 35, 39, 370 S.E.2d 423, 425 (1988).
It has been applied in cases where an employer affirmatively requests that an employee violate established public policy:
Sides v. Duke Hospital, 74 N.C. App. 331, 328 S.E.2d 818 (1985), overruled on other grounds by Kurtzman, 347 N.C. at 331, 493 S.E.2d at 422 (nurse alleged her employer pressured her not to testify honestly in a malpractice lawsuit and discharged her after she testified honestly);
Amos v. Oakdale Knitting Co., 331 N.C. 348, 416 S.E.2d 166 (1992) (violation of public policy for employer to discharge employee for refusing to work for less than statutory minimum wage);
Lenzer v. Flaherty, 106 N.C. App. 496, 418 S.E.2d 276 (1992) (public policy is violated when hospital worker is discharged for reporting patient abuse);
Deerman v. Beverly California Corp., 135 N.C. App. 1, 518 S.E.2d 804 (1999) (nurse stated claim where allegedly fired for following state regulations);
Roberts v. First-Citizens Bank and Trust Co., 124 N.C. App. 713, 478 S.E.2d 809 (1996) (discharge of commercial loan officer for refusal to cash collateral without giving notice to debtor as required by statute falls within the public policy exception);
Vereen v. Holden, 121 N.C. App. 779, 468 S.E.2d 471 (1996) (employee discharged for his political affiliation);
Williams, 91 N.C. App. at 42, 370 S.E.2d at 426 (reversed dismissal of plaintiff's complaint where plaintiff alleged she was fired after testifying truthfully against her employer);
Daniel v. Carolina Sunrock Corp., 110 N.C. App. 376, 384, 430 S.E.2d 306, 311-12 (Lewis, J. dissenting), rev'd and dissent adopted by, 335 N.C. 233, 436 S.E.2d 835 (1993) (where employee alleged he was discharged for expressing a willingness to testify honestly but employee did not testify and no evidence that employer encouraged plaintiff to testify in a manner other than truthfully does not support a claim for wrongful discharge);
Rush v. Living Centers-Southeast Inc., 135 N.C. App. 509, 521 S.E.2d 145 (1999) (where plaintiff discharged for refusal to testify at trial, but did not prove employer asked her to testify untruthfully, she does not establish a violation of public policy);
Garner v. Rentenbach Constructors, Inc., 350 N.C. 567, 515 S.E.2d 438 (1999) (discharge of an employee for failing a drug test not performed by a lab approved by state regulations did not create an actionable claim for discharge);
Johnson v. Mayo Yarns, 126 N.C. App. 292, 484 S.E.2d 840 (1997) (discharge of employee for refusal to remove confederate flag decal is not a violation of public policy);
J. Michael McGuinness, North Carolina's Developing Public Policy Wrongful Discharge Doctrine in the New Millennium: Basic Principles, Causation & Proof of Improper Motive, 23 Campbell L. Rev. 203 (2001).