The North Carolina Poultry Federation (NCPF) is supporting a new law passed by the state’s legislature that will provide a cause of action in civil court by an employer against an employee who intentionally gains access to a non-public area of another’s premises and engages in an act that exceeds the person’s authority to enter the area.
The new law becomes effective on January 1, 2016, and will apply to acts committed on or after that date.
The law defines a non-public area as an “area not accessible to or not intended to be accessed by the general public.”
The law defines an act that exceeds a person’s authority to enter the non-public area as any of the following:
- Entering and removing the employer’s data, paper, records or other documents;
- Enters and records images or sound occurring within an employer’s premises and uses the recording to breach the person’s duty of loyalty;
- Knowingly or intentionally placing on the employer’s premises an unattended camera or electronic surveillance device and using that device to record images or data;
- Conspiring in organized retail theft;
- Any other act that substantially interferes with the ownership or possession of real property;
- Any person who intentionally provides direction or guidance, or induces another person to violate this section shall be jointly liable.
The new law provides for a broad array of relief, including injunctions, compensatory damages, a penalty of $5,000 per day that the defendant or defendants violates the law, and costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Opponents of the law contended that the law would discourage the legitimate acts of what are often referred to as “whistleblowers” motivated to give exposure to their employer’s unlawful activities. However, the bill specifically provides that whistleblower protections otherwise provided in existing state law will protect any legitimate whistleblower and insulate him or her from suit.
“There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation about this bill,” remarked Henry Jones, general counsel and lobbyist for the NCPF. “This bill has no impact whatsoever on the legitimate employee, hired under good faith, who uncovers illegal activity through the normal cope of his or her employment. The bill will primarily apply to those persons who gain employment fraudulently, for a purpose other than what is initially represented.”
The law also does not apply to investigations or activities undertaken by governmental agencies or law enforcement officers.
Supporters of the law, including the NCPF, argued that the law protects the private property interests of all employers and protects them from the abusive and damaging practices of a number of special interest groups that have been active over the last several years. The bill is narrowly written to give employers a specific civil remedy based upon trespass, which is already embedded in North Carolina law, with some specific damages to discourage these abusive practices against employers.
“The supporters of the bill have worked diligently on crafting the language to encompass a specific type of action”, stated Bob Ford, President of the NCPF. “These actions against employers have occurred throughout the state, and not just in the agricultural industry.”
Jones further commented, “With the encouragement and assistance of all industries affected by these kinds of employment abuses, we have been able to rally support extending beyond the agricultural community.”
The bill passed the North Carolina House and Senate by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities. Nevertheless, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, vetoed the legislation on May 29. According to his press release, the governor was concerned that “subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.”
On June 3, the North Carolina House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto by comfortable margins.