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Understanding constructive discharge

Have you ever heard someone say, “I was forced to quit,” when talking about a job?

If so, you may be hearing about a constructive discharge.

A constructive discharge happens when an employer makes the job absolutely unbearable for an employee — to the point that no reasonable employee would feel like he or she could continue working there. The conditions that force the employee to leave could be related to mistreatment, harassment or some other form of discrimination.

For example, an employee could be abruptly transferred to a location that forces him or her to commute hours each way — making it almost impossible for him or her to continue. Alternately, an employee could be suddenly put on split shifts for an extended period of time — when the employer has no obvious need for such action. Other types of unbearable conditions could include demeaning changes in duties unrelated to discipline issues, a refusal to accommodate a pregnant or nursing mother, significant reductions in pay or a similar reduction in benefits.

It’s important to remember that it isn’t merely the “final straw” that causes the employee to quit that adds up to a constructive discharge. The totality of an employer’s actions and the situation has to be examined to determine if a constructive discharge took place.

Quite often, the employee senses that the workplace mistreatment or harassment is purposeful. The employer actually hopes to force his or her employee to quit. That way, the employer hopes to avoid any liability for any unemployment payments or unfinished contracts that would be due a fired employee — which can get expensive.

Constructive discharges are, in reality, still discharges. Employees who are treated so harshly that they can’t reasonably continue doing their jobs are as effectively fired as someone who is handed a pink slip. That turns the situation into a wrongful termination that the employee can — and should — fight in court.

Source: FindLaw, “Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination,” accessed March 14, 2018