Constructive Discharge « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Constructive Discharge

When Employers May be Liable for “Causing” a Resignation

As an employer, you might assume the company is immune from any wrongful termination claim if an employee quits on his or her own accord.   However, a worker may still prove a business is responsible for wrongful “constructive discharge” even when he or she has deliberately resigned the employment.

Wrongful constructive discharge occurs when an employee is “forced“ to quit because the employer has unlawfully made working conditions unbearable.  For example, an employee may complain about a possibly unsafe or improper working condition.  The employee might even be mistaken about the issue, based on faulty information.  If, as a result of the complaint, that worker experienced management’s continued harassment, discrimination or other unfair treatment to the degree that a reasonable person in that worker’s position would have found no alternative but to quit, the company may be liable.

A business is also prohibited from constructively discharging a worker due to that employee’s race, national origin, gender or any other classification protected from discrimination by federal and/or state law.  A worker constructively discharged for such reasons has the right to claim and collect damages under workplace anti-discrimination laws, including  the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (also known as “Title VII”) and/or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

While an employee who resigns is usually not qualified to receive unemployment benefits,  a worker who can show he or she was constructively discharged is an exception.

However, the applicable laws do not grant a blank check to every worker who has quit because he or she considers the employer was harsh or unfair.  First, the harshness or unfairness has to stem from the worker’s exercise of protected rights or from his or her membership in a classification protected by law (race, disability, sexual preference, religion, etc.). Second, the employee has a corresponding duty to seek all reasonable resolution of such perceived harassment or discrimination that is internally available in the company.  Wrongful constructive discharge occurs only where there is no reasonable alternative to solve the retaliation except to resign. This of course makes clearly written complaint policies and a personnel department skilled in handling such complaints essential.

There is a great deal more to the subject. See, for instance, our article, “Forced to Quit? A California Employment Lawyer’s Perspective on Constructive Discharge.” For help on handling or responding to specific potential or actual wrongful constructive discharge claims, contact an attorney who specializes in employer defense.

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