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Quit or Fired? N.C. Employees May Qualify for Unemployment Benefits in Equivocal Situations

    Client Alerts
  • February 05, 2020

Under North Carolina statute, employees who leave work for a reason other than good cause attributable to the employer are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals established a legal test for determining whether an employee intended to quit in an ambiguous situation. In Maness v. The Village of Pinehurst, a police officer informed his supervisor that he would not consent to a medical examination to be performed by a third party. He claimed that he turned in his badge under the assumption that he would be suspended as a result of this refusal.

The employer, on the other hand, assumed that the employee had quit and ended his employment. When the plaintiff applied for unemployment benefits, the town responded that he was disqualified based on his voluntarily leaving work. The Employment Security Commission agreed, and the plaintiff appealed the denial to the Court of Appeals. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the question of whether an employee quits should be based on his or her subjective intent. The employer claimed that its perception of the employee’s action should govern this question.

The court rejected both of these approaches, instead concluding that the question of whether an employee intends to quit is an objective one. How would a reasonable person characterize this behavior? The court determined that the ESC’s findings of fact were insufficient to draw a conclusion under this test and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

If an employer believes that an employee has resigned, it should seek confirmation in writing. If the employee refuses to provide such confirmation, the employer should send a written communication stating that it considers the worker to have quit, and that the worker must immediately contact the company if he or she disputes this conclusion. The company should then document the reasons for its conclusion based on the employee’s actions and statements.