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Were You the Victim of ‘Constructive Discharge?’

Employees who are the victims of something called “constructive discharge” may not even realize it. Sometimes referred to as “constructive termination” or “corrective dismissal,” it’s when an employer intentionally makes working conditions so unbearable for an employee that he or she has no alternative but to quit.

It’s a form of wrongful termination. Just as in traditional wrongful termination cases, an employee may be able to take legal action against the employer.

It can be more challenging for people to prove that they were the victim of constructive discharge than wrongful termination because they left their jobs, seemingly of their own volition. Generally, a person bringing a claim of constructive discharge needs to show a pattern of egregious or intolerable conduct on the part of an employer.

There may be exceptions where one act, such as if an employer commits a violent crime against a worker or requires a worker to engage in an illegal action. However, in most cases, the activity leading to the employee’s resignation needs to be ongoing rather than an isolated incident.

Employees also need to show that the employer was aware of the activity or behavior. For example, if a co-worker was regularly sexually or verbally harassing, did you notify the proper person or department within the company? An argument that the employer didn’t know about the intolerable working conditions but should have likely won’t be enough to make a case for constructive discharge.

Of course, we all have a different tolerance level. What one person might find intolerable, another may be able to brush off. That’s why courts use the “reasonable person standard.” Would a reasonable person find the conditions a person was working under intolerable? If not, you likely won’t be able to bring a successful complaint.

Every situation is unique. If you believe that you have a constructive discharge case, you should talk with an Arizona attorney experienced in employment law. He or she can help determine whether you have a viable claim.