Job Loss and Termination
People who have suffered a job loss or layoff are often shocked and panicked. However, there are usually benefits available to those individuals who have lost their jobs due to a layoff, such as unemployment compensation, and in some cases other federal and state benefits. For employees who quit their jobs, help is usually not available, which means some employees suffer in miserable jobs until they can’t take it anymore and quit.
Intolerable Working Environments
In some situations, an employer may make the working environment purposely miserable in hopes that an employee will quit, also known as “constructive discharge“. An employer may want an employee to leave the workplace, but may not feel comfortable firing the employee or laying him or her off. There could be a lot of reasons the employer would rather the employee quit than be fired – maybe the employee has a contract that prevents the employer from terminating him or her. Maybe the employer doesn’t wish for the employee to get unemployment compensation, fearing that would cause the unemployment compensation insurance rates to increase, or their rating to decrease. In those cases, the employer may purposely decide to make the job so intolerable that the employee chooses to quit. In that situation, a “constructive discharge” may have occurred. If an employee can show that a constructive discharge has occurred, the employee may be eligible for back pay and benefits, as well as compensation for legal expenses and damages.
Proving Constructive Discharge
However, it can be difficult to know exactly when a constructive discharge has occurred. Just because a job is miserable doesn’t mean that an employee who quit is allowed to claim it was due to a constructive discharge.
In California, constructive discharge has been defined by the California Supreme Court as occurring when an employee proves that the employer either intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable or aggravated that a reasonable employer would realize that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would be compelled to resign.
In order to show that a constructive discharge has occurred, an employee must show that the working environment was truly intolerable. If an employee quits because of a petty change in the job duties, or because of insignificant things that have always bugged the employee about the job, a court would most likely not find that a constructive discharge occurred. If an employer implemented a justifiable change in the workplace for legitimate business reasons, and an employee simply didn’t like the change, that would probably not constitute a constructive discharge. Some examples of behavior that may constitute constructive discharge by an employee would include sexual harassment, humiliating behavior by supervisors, or physically intimidating conduct.
In addition, some workplaces are simply not pleasant, and it doesn’t mean that the employees there are entitled to file claims for constructive discharge simply because the working conditions aren’t ideal. For example, working in a poultry processing plant may not be a pleasant job for some, but the work environment normally wouldn’t be considered so intolerable that an employee could claim that he or she had no choice but to quit. However, if the boss at the poultry processing plant screamed obscenities at employees on a regular basis and refused to let them have bathroom breaks, in that situation a court would be more likely to find that a constructive discharge had occurred.
In some cases, an employee may have a claim for constructive discharge as well as other employment rights claims. If an employee is harassed or discriminated in the workplace on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, or similar characteristics, the employee may have a legal case against the employer based on violations of state and federal law.
Contact California Employment Rights Law Firm, Liberty Law
At Liberty Law Micha Star Liberty believes that employers should do everything possible to create a tolerable work environment for their employees. If you were forced to quit because of a horrible work situation, contact Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She serves clients in the Oakland, San Francisco, Hayward, Tracy, and Fairfield areas. She will help you make a claim for compensation you are owed. Call her today.