It’s not unusual to hear about somebody being fired for something they wrote on social media. Maybe a video goes viral showing someone not quite living their best life and they’re out of a job.

But what about an arrest for DUI, drug possession or getting into a fight? Maybe you’re innocent but the police made a mistake or were discriminating against you. What if the charges are later dropped? Is it legal to fire you (or turn you down for a job) because of trouble with the law?

North Carolina’s “at-will” employment law

North Carolina is an “at-will” employment state, meaning you can quit your job anytime you want. There are exceptions, like when the public is endangered. You can’t quit your bus-driving job at 60 miles an hour.

But “at-will” employment also means an employer can fire or refuse to hire you when and why they want.

Again, there are a plenty of exceptions like retaliation for complaining to the North Carolina Department of Labor (whistle-blowing) or discrimination for your race, gender or certain other personal characteristics. Typically, you can’t’ be fired for taking time for military service, jury duty or certain family and medical leaves.

But such exceptions are clearly defined in the law. In general, an employer can fire you for almost any reason, even ones that seem very unfair and/or stupid.

Firing you for an arrest or conviction

People with arrests or convictions or even people who the police question about a crime are not protected from being fired. A DUI arrest, even if the charges are dropped, is reason enough to fire someone, at least under the law.

Attorneys know that there’s often hope

All this bad news aside, every case truly is different. If you think you’re being treated unfairly by your employer or by a potential employer, it’s probably worth asking an attorney what they think about your situation.

Here are some possible issues you and an attorney might explore together.

  • Yes, you can legally be fired or not hired for minor or stupid reasons. But if they fire or reject mostly people of color, women, or GLBTQ people, for example, for these silly reasons, the employer might be in trouble.
  • Background checks for employees or applicants are commonly. But they need your permission first. And doing them mostly for people who fit certain categories may be illegal.
  • It might be possible to scrub your criminal record clean by expunging convictions or even by reopening a case.
  • What an employer can ask you or check about you varies from place to place within North Caroline and from one phase of the hiring process to another.

The employer may have wrong information, or assume you have no information, about what’s legal for them to do. It’s often best to consult an attorney.