State unemployment compensation laws generally award unemployment benefits to employees who have been fired, with the notable exception of employees who are fired for “misconduct.” In the unemployment context, “misconduct” is a fairly high standard of proof, as shown recently by a case involving the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
The case involved Freddie Huff, a state trooper. Huff received a pair of state-issued shoes as part of his trooper uniform. The shoes were uncomfortable so Huff bought a more expensive pair with his own money and sold his state-issued shoes on eBay to partially offset the cost of his new shoes.
The Department of Public Safety learned that Huff sold his state-issued shoes and fired him for violating agency policy. Huff applied for unemployment benefits and ultimately was denied benefits by the North Carolina state agency that administers the state’s unemployment laws. After a series of appeals, the matter wound up before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
The Court ordered that Huff be awarded unemployment benefits. The Court noted that “violating a work rule is not willful misconduct if evidence shows the employee’s actions were reasonable and were taken with good cause. Good cause is a reason which would be deemed by reasonable men and women valid and not indicative of an unwillingness to work.
“Here, the evidence established that Huff’s state-issued shoes were uncomfortable so he bought a more expensive pair of shoes and sold his state-issued shoes to help defray the cost. At the time Huff did so, he believed that other troopers traded in their shoes at a private surplus shop to obtain different ones. Even if Huff’s actions violated a work rule, those actions did not rise to the level of a willful or wanton disregard of the employer’s interest.”
Huff v. North Carolina Department of Commerce, 785 S.E.2d 185 (N.C. App. 2016).