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Beware REDA retaliation against ex-employees

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

The North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) prohibits retaliation when employees engage in protected activity at work. Protected activity in­­cludes things like complaining about wage-and-hour violations and filing workers’ compensation claims.

Since REDA protects employees, some employers have argued that the law doesn’t apply to former em­­ployees. It does.

Recent case: Jeffrey Edwards worked for PCS Phosphate, where he was allegedly exposed to asbestos. He was diagnosed with asbestosis and filed a workers’ compensation claim. While the claim was pending, Edwards announced he wanted to retire.

Meanwhile, HR asked Edwards to walk around the facility and point out where he thought he had been exposed to asbestos.

On the advice of his lawyer, Ed­­wards refused. He was then fired for in­­subordination and never returned to work. Later, he went to work for another employer and was assigned to a PCS Phosphate facility. PCS said he could not work there.

Edwards sued PCS under the REDA, alleging he had been fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim and that he had been blacklisted as further punishment.

PCS Phosphate argued that Edwards couldn’t sue under the REDA for retaliation because he was technically a former employee.

The court didn’t buy the argument. It said it would make no sense to allow an employee who was simply demoted to sue, but to bar an employee who was fired in retaliation from having his day in court.

The court went on to say that essentially blacklisting a former employee as punishment for filing a workers’ compensation claim may also be a REDA violation. (Edwards v. PCS Phosphate, No. 4:10-CV-89, ED NC, 2011)

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