Constructive Discharge--Or What You Think of as Hostile Work Environment
As discussed in the Hostile Work Environment post, what most people think of as hostile work environment is actually a constructive discharge. That is to say, you feel like the work environment is so toxic that there is no way you can continue working there.
While not as complicated as a hostile work environment claim, there are still plenty of intricacies that you must navigate to determine if you can successfully bring a constructive discharge claim.
Let’s start by looking at the four things you must prove to succeed on your claim:
(1) The employer must have intentionally created or knowingly permitted (2) working conditions to exist that were so intolerable (3) that a reasonable person in your position (4) would have had no reasonable alternative except to resign.
Like Hostile Work environment, your employer can’t be held liable unless they knew or caused the problem. That makes sense because we don’t want someone to be held liable if they had nothing to do with the problem. So if you feel like you are in a bad working environment, e-mail your boss about it, or in some other way create a paper trail to show that they knew. If you do that, then not only will you be covered legally, but it increases the likelihood of your boss fixing the situation.
We previously reviewed the reasonable person standard and reasonable alternative is fairly self-explanatory—but I will give an example just in case: if you had the opportunity to stop the intolerable activity by never interacting with a particular person, but instead chose to quit, your claim will likely fail on this element.
Those are the easy parts; the hard part is figuring out what is “intolerable.” Generally speaking, in order to be considered intolerable you must show that the working conditions are unusually aggravated or amount to a continuous pattern. So if your superior punches you in your face once, that might be sufficient to trigger being intolerable. If you go to work every day and are unfairly berated by your boss, that might be sufficient. If, however, you receive an unwarranted poor performance review and reduced pay, that alone is not likely sufficient to be considered intolerable.
Something to keep in mind when thinking about this cause of action is to think about why it exists. When an employer fires you, not because you don’t deserve it, but because they simply don’t like you, it might trigger a lot of legal ramifications. So, to prevent this, employers might want to make your working conditions so poor that you have no choice to quit. This is obviously unfair and does not promote a healthy work force and as a result it is not legal.
So, when analyzing the conduct that you are suffering, you must think, is this conduct such that it would be generally foreseeable to your employer that you would be compelled to quit.