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Labor and Employment Law

Do I Have a Case for Constructive Discharge?

Many People Quit Their Jobs Every Day

Roughly 48% of the currently identified unemployed actually quit their job.  An unusually high number?  No.  That is within range the national norm for the past 5 years.

Many people quit because they felt they were being treated unfairly, or even abusively, during their employment.  Stated otherwise, many felt they were subjected to a hostile work environment.

What is a Hostile Work Environment Under the Law?

However,  hostile work environments, as defined in the law, are somewhat rare.  Indeed, in order to prove that a hostile work environment exists, one typically must allege the existence of sexual harassment, or a work environment filled with racism, or extreme and overt criticisms based upon a persons age, sex, national origin, religion, etc. 

There are some other scenarios, such as being subjected to hostility because you took leave protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), sought a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), filed a workers' compensation claim, demanded to be paid overtime which you reasonably believed you were entitled to under the law or made a claim protected under a whistleblower statute (there are a few others, and they vary from state to state).

Mere Proof of Cruel, Unfair or Immoral Treatment is Not Proof of an Illegal Hostile Work Environment

However, they key point is as follows:  merely having a cruel, hostile boss, or a gang of insensitive, bullying co-workers is not enough to prove a hostile work environment.  This is the foundation of the employment at will doctrine

NOTE:  If you have to quit your job because of severe mistreatment by management and/or co-workers, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits even if you were not subjected to an illegal hostile work environment.

You Have a Constructive Discharge Claim Only if You Were Subjected to an Illegal Hostile Work Environment

Understanding these principles is important, because a claim of constructive discharge only lies where an illegally hostile work environment left the employee with no choice but to resign.

Truly Illegal Hostile Work Environment Claims Are Relatively Rare

I would say that of the roughly 6 Million people who are currently unemployed due to quitting their jobs, a very small percentage could actually make out a claim of constructive discharge.  While a much larger percentage quit because they found their job intolerable due to the (mis)behavior of their bosses and/or colleagues, the law does not require civility in the workplace.

If You Quit Your Job Because of One of These Scenarios, You May Have a Constructive Discharge Case 

In summary, and generally, if you quit your job for any of the following reasons, you may well have a claim for constructive discharge:

1)  You were the victim of sexual harassment by your supervisor or boss;

2)   You were the victim of sexual harassment by a co-worker and complained to management, but it failed to take steps to fix the problem, which then continued;

3)   You were treated badly at work, and it was made clear that the mistreatment had come about because you were disliked because of your age, sex, race, national origin, religious beliefs, or disability;

4)   You made a reasonable complaint that you believed you were being treated badly because of your age, sex, race, etc., management responded ineffectively and the environment became even more hostile.  This is known as a unlawful retaliation claim.

5)    You took leave under FMLA, sought overtime to which you believed you were entitled, sought a reasonable accommodation under ADA or filed a workers' compensation claim -- and thereafter were retaliated against by your employer via mistreatment, change of duties, etc.

6) You made a whistleblower complaint, and were thereafter subjected to a hostile work atmosphere.

Generally, unless you have one of these scenarios, you likely do not have a claim for a hostile work environment, and therefore do not have a claim of constructive discharge.

Read more articles about employment law issues at Philadelphia Area Employment Lawyer, a blog by John A. Gallagher.

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