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What are you doing for the Labor Day weekend?  A holiday that began in the late 19th Century as a celebration of the economic and social contributions of workers has morphed into the unofficial end of summer and a large retail sales day.  Celebrated for the first time in 1882, North Carolina did not observe the holiday until it became a federal holiday in 1894 despite the fact all neighboring states adopted the holiday years earlier.  The first Labor Day holidays included street parades followed by picnics and festivals for workers and their families to celebrate (click here for a history of the holiday from the Department of Labor).  Today North Carolina has many festivals and activities to celebrate the holiday, the most popular being the Food and Wine Festival in Pinehurst and the NC Apple Festival in Hendersonville.

The most commonly discussed labor statistic today is the unemployment rate.  North Carolina has received national attention as one of the highest unemployment states in the country.  This is what the news release regarding the July 2013 unemployment statistics stated:

The state’s seasonally adjusted July unemployment rate was 8.9 percent, increasing 0.1 of a percentage point from June’s revised rate. The national rate declined to 7.4 percent from June’s 7.6 percent. 

North Carolina’s July 2013 unemployment rate was 0.7 of a percentage point lower than a year ago. The number of people employed decreased 13,735 over the month to 4,278,516, and increased 14,902 over the year. The number of people unemployed increased 1,527 over the month to 417,841, and declined 36,644 over the year.

Seasonally adjusted Total Nonfarm industry employment, as gathered through the monthly establishment survey, increased 8,200 to 4,053,600 in July. The major industry with the largest over-the-month increase was Trade, Transportation & Utilities at 5,200, followed by Leisure & Hospitality Services, 2,700; Financial Activities, 2,400; Professional & Business Services, 1,700; Manufacturing, 1,200; Other Services, 700; Information, 200; and Construction, 100. Major industries to experience decreases were Government, 5,300; and Education & Health Services, 700. Mining & Logging employment remained flat over the month

If you want to read more about North Carolina’s unemployment rate and what the end of 2013 is expected to bring, read JLF President John Hood’s column from last week here.

When discussing the unemployment rate, unemployment insurance or benefits for those unemployed are often mentioned.  This discussion was very important during the last legislative session.  North Carolina is in line behind California and New York with the 3rd largest Unemployment Insurance debt in the United States and owes approximately $2.5 billion to the federal government.  Many were upset that the legislature decided to cut benefits for the unemployed in an effort to offset the loan balance. House Bill 4 reduced the maximum weekly benefits from a payout of $535 to $350 and from a maximum of 26 weeks to 20 weeks.  If you want to hear more about the unemployment benefits in North Carolina, click here for a video of the NC Assistant Commerce Secretary talking about what is really happening in North Carolina.

While this newsletter has been mostly about unemployment, I want to leave you with some questions frequently asked of the NC Department of Labor.  Most of us have seen the posters in break rooms with labor laws clearly explained, but sometimes these questions are not answered in full detail.  They might even be a great conversation starter on a Labor Day picnic.

Q: What are the legal holidays that my employer has to observe?

A: None.  There is no such thing as a required legal holiday that employers have to observe. It is entirely up to your employer to give holiday time off with or without pay, or not to give any time off for holidays at all.  However, once your employer does promise to give holiday pay, your employer must put its holiday policy in writing and make it available to its employees, as it should with all wage benefit promises.  Also, it is entirely up to your employer to decide which holidays it wants to observe if any at all.

Q: Can an employee be fired over the telephone?

A: Yes.  An employer can fire an employee in person, over the telephone, or by mail; the way an employer does this is up to the employer.

Q: Does an employer have to give all of its employees rest breaks and meal breaks?

A: No.  A rest break (generally 10 or 15 minutes) and a meal break (usually 30 minutes or more) are not required by law for anyone who is 16 years of age or older.  A 30-minute break after 5 hours is required for youths who are 14 or 15 years of age.

Q: Does an employer have to give its employees a check-stub?

A: Yes.  An employer must give an itemized statement of all deductions to its employees every time they get a paycheck.  The employer does not have to list the rate of pay or the hours on the check-stub.  The information can also be listed on the check.

Q: Are employers required by NC Law to conduct drug tests?

A: No.  NC law allows employers to conduct drug tests within certain guidelines.

Q: Can my employer require me to take a drug test?

A: Yes.  An employer can require that an applicant or employee submit to a drug test as a condition of hiring or of continued employment.

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