Constructive discharge occurs when employees claim their working conditions were so intolerable that they were forced to quit. Employers must stay within federal employment laws so they don’t contribute to factors that trigger constructive discharge claims, and don’t heighten the risk of employee lawsuits.
1. What do the courts look at when it comes to claims of constructive discharge? What types of actions can lead to such a claim?
Here’s how one state supreme court defined constructive discharge: “An employee who is forced to resign due to actions and conditions so intolerable or aggravated at the time of his resignation that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have resigned, and whose employer had actual or constructive knowledge of the intolerable actions and conditions and of their impact on the employee and could have remedied the situation, but did not, is constructively discharged.”
What falls into the intolerable or aggravated category? Think: actions intended to humiliate (e.g., demoting a vice president to janitor overnight); actions intended to harass (e.g., requiring a black employee to work extra hours for the same pay as white co-workers and punch a clock while others do not); actions intended to destroy the employee’s career or guarantee job loss (e.g., sudden, unexplained drops in performance ratings, skipped promotions, forced demotions, pay cuts).
2. What other types of factors contribute to a constructive discharge claim?
Factors that may contribute to a constructive discharge claim—either singly or in combination—include whether an employee suffered:
- a demotion
- reduction in salary
- reduction in job responsibilities
- reassignment to menial or degrading work
- reassignment to work under a younger supervisor
- involuntary transfer to a less desirable position
- badgering, harassment or humiliation by the employer
- offers of early retirement or encouragement to retire
- offers of continued employment on terms less favorable than the employee’s former status
- a threat of violence or actual physical assault
- a threat of termination