man putting his belonging in a box after being fired from job due to poor performance

Constructive Discharge: Were You Forced to Quit Your Job?

man seated holding box of belongings after being fired from job

While most people who leave a job voluntarily have little recourse, it’s not always the case. Sometimes, when you quit or resign, the circumstances leading up to that pivotal moment may justify a claim that you were “constructively discharged.”

Florida is an “employment at will” state, like nearly all the rest of the U.S., but there are times when forcing an employee to resign or quit is against the law.

Were you forced to quit your job because no reasonable person in your position would be able to continue to work under intolerable working conditions related to discrimination in the workplace, or other unlawful harassment in the workplace? This is known as constructive discharge and if you did quit because your work environment was intolerable, there are a few things you should know about your employment rights.

The History of Constructive Discharge

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “discriminatory practices…also include constructive discharge or forcing an employee to resign by making the work environment so intolerable a reasonable person would not be able to stay.”

Constructive discharge provides you with rights that are not normally available to employees who willingly leave their employer. The concept of constructive discharge originated as a means to deal with employers who were discouraging unionization of their labor force by making it difficult for their employees by creating intolerable working conditions. Now the concept applies to all employees, regardless of union affiliation.

Why Is Establishing Constructive Discharge Important?

Leaving your job voluntarily is different than getting fired because of discrimination because you cannot then show that your employer took an adverse action against you- you made the decision to quit but it is not that easy for the employer to avoid liability. In the case of constructive discharge, when you resign or leave due to intolerable working conditions, your resignation may be considered a termination in the eyes of the law. This means it may be “seen” through the same legal context as a discriminatory firing, which could make you eligible for unemployment benefits among other things.

Examples of Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge can take many shapes because “intolerable working conditions” for one person may not seem so for another. There is of course a “reasonable person” standard at play. It is also incumbent on the employee to prove the charge of constructive discharge against the employer. Here is an example of the type of perceived duress that would make staying in a position difficult:

A new mother who returns to work after leave is repeatedly told that she must work overtime every night even though this was never a requirement of her position before. Her manager now micromanages her work and assigns her things that need to be done by “end of day” thirty minutes before the day ends. She’s stressed out and unable to complete assignments. She is accused of being on the “mommy track” and not being dedicated to her career. She decides to quit for her own mental health.

While she wasn’t fired, she may still be seen as terminated under discriminatory practices.

What Is Not Grounds for Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge is a claim that must be proved. In the case of Dent v. Davaco, Nicole Dent alleged constructive discharge based on how she believed her manager to be anti-pregnancy. He made comments about how when his wife was pregnant she was always at the doctor.

Constructive discharge does not cover things like feelings, mean looks, and other whisperings. To be considered a constructive discharge, the employer (or someone employed by the employer) must create intolerable working conditions. This often includes things like:

  • Demotions, forced retirement, or job responsibility removal without reason
  • Pay or hour decreases without justification
  • Reassignment to menial work
  • Consistent bullying or badgering, humiliation or harassment as in the case of a hostile work environment

While any of these (with the exception of the last one) could be necessary due to economic issues with the business, a constructive discharge claim asserts that these actions are not due to financial difficulties or part of a performance improvement plan (PIP). However, like most employment rights issues, even a PIP can be the basis for a constructive discharge if it is unwarranted by a lack of performance. That is why it’s best to consult an employment attorney to find out if your choice to leave your job is an example of constructive discharge.

At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., we protect employee rights and we can help you understand constructive discharge as it relates to your employment situation. Please access our free ebook on Wrongful Termination today or call us and schedule your free consultation.

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