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Constructive Discharge - Definition

Chloe Meltzer | October 19, 2022

Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

If your job was this bad ^^ you might be entitled to compensation.

Summary: Have you been forced to quit your job due to unbearable working condition? SoloSuit can help you understand your options with filing a constructive discharge claim.

Constructive discharge claims are lawsuits filed by an employee who has left their job because of intolerable working conditions. These conditions must have been so poor that they forced the employee to quit their position.

The claim must show that the employer's actions were done to punish the employee in an indirect manner when they could not directly punish the employee. Although typical resignation, firing, or other types of separation from an employer are common, constructive discharge is different because it is specific to poor and unbearable working conditions.

It is recommended to file a discharge claim from the time the inappropriate action occurred, but it can also be filed after you quit. This is because whistleblowers often fear retaliation.

Constructive discharge – definition

The definition of the term "constructive discharge" is when a worker's resignation or retirement may be found not to be voluntary because the employer created an environment that was too hostile to work in. The employer may have also applied other forms of pressure or coercion which forced the employee to quit or resign. This can occur when an employer makes changes to the terms and conditions of a worker's employment. However, what is considered a constructive discharge is defined in state law, which varies from state to state. Now, let's break down the actions that might constitute a constructive discharge claim.

Common reasons to claim constructive discharge

There are a few common reasons why an employee, or former employee, might claim constructive discharge. For example, you may claim constructive discharge if an employer:

  • Reduces your working hours
  • Demotes you without reason
  • Does not take action when harassment has been reported at work
  • Withholds pay
  • Makes unacceptable changes to your workday
  • Does not provide the support needed to carry out responsibilities

Understand a constructive discharge claim

For a constructive discharge claim to even be considered, the claim must adhere to a few guidelines. For one, the claim must demonstrate that the employer's actions specifically worked to indirectly punish the employee, when direct punishment isn't possible. This may be done through reducing hours, verbally assaulting the employee, or any other prolonged form of harassment or abuse that pushes them until they quit.

This might include passing over an employee for promotion because of something such as race, gender, religion or age (anything other than performance).

Statute of limitations on a constructive discharge claim

During a claims investigation, the way the employer acted during the time period in question is more important than that of the employee. There is a time period, called the statute of limitations, in which the claim must be filed. Otherwise, the employer may not be able to rectify their actions.

The statute of limitations for a constructive discharge claim will begin on the date that the employer is said to have acted improperly. In some cases, this time period can extend until the date of quitting. The employee is sometimes required to try to resolve the issue before a claim is made. This can be difficult though, as sometimes the employee worries about the result of approaching a claim.

Examples of constructive discharge

When an employee makes a claim, if the employee's manager places the employee on leave because of non-performance despite the employee recently receiving a positive performance review, this could be considered a constructive discharge claim.

The employee could have filed a constructive discharge claim indicating that conditions fell apart in the office after they were denied a promotion and that the employer indeed retaliated.

The following are a few scenarios that could qualify as leading to a constructive discharge claim:

  • Being a victim of sexual harassment by a supervisor or boss
  • Being the victim of sexual harassment by a co-worker, having complained to management, but the management failed to handle the problem which only continued
  • Being treated poorly at work due to something out of their control, such as their age, sex, race, national origin, religious beliefs, or disability
  • Making a reasonable complaint regarding being treated poorly, where the management responded ineffectively and the work environment became a toxic situation
  • Taking relief or asked for payment of overtime, looking for accommodation under ADA, or filed a workers' compensation claim, and was retaliated against by the employer
  • Making a whistleblower complaint and after being subjected to a hostile work atmosphere

Suing for constructive discharge

Although there is a statute of limitations to file a constructive discharge claim, it is possible to sue for constructive discharge even after resigning, versus after being laid off or fired. However, in order to do so, the employee would have to show that the employer purposefully made the workplace intolerable, leading to the need to resign for mental or physical health purposes.

Proving a constructive discharge claim

Most often it is hard to prove constructive discharge. This is because the “burden of proof” lies with the employee. This forces them to present specific facts that prove the employer created a hostile work environment. This hostile work environment must have led to or could have led to an employee resigning. Additionally, each workplace is different, and each workplace is complex. However, it is required that the employee proves that the decisions made by an employer must have led to constructive discharge.

Overall, an employee is expected to prove that they were mistreated at work, they must also be able to show documents that they had reached out and complained to their supervisor, HR department, or management, but also prove that the issue was not resolved after doing so.

If you plan to claim constructive discharge, the court will want you to prove that this work environment was so intolerable that any reasonable person would have quit in your position. Only then, will you win your case and be awarded damages.

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