Forced to Quit: Do You Qualify for a Constructive Discharge?

November 25, 2019

Forced to Quit: Do you qualify for a Constructive Discharge?

Do you feel that you were forced to quit your job due to intolerable work conditions or treatment? Did you know that in some circumstances, a resignation could be treated the same as a termination? Your resignation under these types of situations is known as constructive discharge or constructive termination. Therefore, you have certain rights that are generally not available to people who quit their jobs. These rights may include the right to receive unemployment benefits and to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer.

So, when is a resignation not considered voluntary? When it is unlawfully coerced or the only escape from an intolerably hostile work environment.

A finding of “constructive discharge” is almost the same as wrongful termination. The employee technically quit their job, but in reality, they were pushed out.

What is constructive discharge?

Constructive discharge means that an employee, rather than being terminated, was forced to resign because of:

  • Deception – My bosses lied to me about what would happen if I stayed.
  • Coercion – They threatened to ruin me.
  • Unbearable Treatment – My work life was miserable. I had no choice but to quit.

When an employee voluntarily leaves a job, typically, they are not entitled to unemployment benefits, and they lose their right to sue for wrongful discharge. Therefore, it is in an employer’s interest to “encourage” unwanted employees to quit so they can claim the separation as voluntary.

Be Informed – An involuntary resignation is not always a constructive discharge

It’s not grounds for a constructive termination lawsuit if an employee feels they received “unfair” treatment. Nor is “quitting before they could fire me.”

Constructive discharge must meet one of these scenarios:

  • Hostile work environment – An employee experienced retaliation, harassment, or discriminatory conduct that created a hostile work environment so unbearable that a reasonable person would leave.
  • Coercion – The employer made misrepresentations or threats of adverse employment actions that the employee relied upon as a forced resignation. 

You do not need to prove that your employers conspired to make you quit, only that their actions or deceptions led you to believe you had no alternative.

In a landmark 7-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court (Green v. Brennan 2016), the Court ruled that the statute of limitations for a Title VII constructive discharge claim begins on the date of the employee’s notice of resignation, not on the date of the last alleged discriminatory act committed by the employer.

Don’t quit too quickly

It’s nearly impossible to “undo” a resignation. Storming out of work and shouting, “I quit!” is as legally binding as a resignation letter. In most cases, it is harder to find employment if you don’t have a job. If you don’t have a job while you are interviewing for a new job, you will have to explain your employment gap and why you left. Get legal advice before you quit.

In a best-case scenario, keep your job while exhausting all of your due process rights, including filing a formal complaint of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. However, if it is so bad that your physical and mental health is jeopardized, then you may have to decide you can longer go back to work. Hopefully, by that time, you reported and documented the mistreatment, reprisal, or non-response.

Contact our office to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

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