You weren’t terminated or laid off from your job, but you don’t feel like you left willingly. Your manager and perhaps some of your colleagues made things so miserable for you that you just couldn’t go on working there. Since technically you weren’t told – or even asked – to resign, is there any kind of legal action you can take?
Possibly. There’s a name for this phenomenon, which probably occurs more than most people realize. It’s called “constructive discharge” (or sometimes “constructive dismissal”). It’s a type of wrongful termination. However, proving it in court can be a challenge.
What is required to show constructive discharge
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a constructive discharge typically occurs when “the employer has created a hostile or intolerable work environment or has applied other forms of pressure or coercion which forced the employee to quit or resign.” This includes things like making “significant and severe changes in the terms and conditions of a worker’s employment.”
It should be noted that to allege constructive discharge, a person needs to show that an employer created or allowed intolerable conditions or treatment with the goal of forcing the employee to resign or retire – not just that they knew or should have known about the conditions. That means an employee needs to bring the matter to the attention of management and/or human resources personnel while they’re still employed and give the matter a chance to be resolved.
In any potential constructive discharge case, it’s crucial to look at the underlying reason for the conditions that caused the resignation. If an employer just doesn’t think someone is a good fit for the company or up to the job, they can, in most cases, simply fire them.
Was your employer guilty of discrimination?
Discrimination lies behind many cases of constructive discharge. A business that has an issue with an employee because of their race, religion, disability or another protected status likely doesn’t want to risk firing them for no good reason. Their solution may be to make them so miserable that they quit.
Whatever the situation, if you weren’t able to resolve the matter internally after you made the conditions known and you felt you needed to leave for your own mental and perhaps physical well-being, find out what kind of legal options you have.