Constructive Discharge in California

Employment Attorneys in San Diego

California workers are often faced with difficult workplace conditions, and some work conditions have become so intolerable that the employee must quit their job. California law will not always treat a resignation from an employee the same as quitting their job in these situations. Workplace conditions and situations can sometimes be so bad and unavoidable that the resignation is, in fact, a termination for legal purposes. 

Constructive discharge is a legal doctrine that holds employers accountable for making the employees working conditions so intolerable that an employee is forced to leave. This doctrine can be very important in determining if that employee may be entitled to additional compensation from their former employer. 

At Potter Handy, LLP we protect employee rights and can help you understand constructive discharge as it relates to your employment situation. Contact us today and schedule your free consultation. 

Why Is Constructive Discharge Important?

If employees are fired, they have several rights that they do not have if they resign. Examples vary from case to case, but often include: 

  • Eligibility for unemployment benefits 
  • Increased damages in retaliation or discrimination lawsuits 
  • Right to a wrongful termination lawsuit 

Employees are generally unable to sue their employer for wrongful termination if they resign or quit (although they may have other reasons for a lawsuit). This creates a perverse incentive for employers who want to fire employees, and if they can somehow get employees to quit first, they can avoid wrongful termination lawsuits. 

California courts have adopted the doctrine of constructive discharge to combat this kind of problem. As mentioned above, when the behavior of the employer effectively forces an employee to resign, constructive discharge occurs. 

If a worker is discovered to have been constructively discharged, they will be entitled to all of the same advantages as a worker that was fired. Additionally, in which an employment contract exists requiring suitable motive for termination, the doctrine of constructive discharge also prevents employers from forcing their personnel out if no right reason exists. 

For those motives, the doctrine of constructive discharge is an essential one in securing employee rights. 

When Does Quitting Your Job Become Constructive Discharge?

An employee needs to be treated so poorly that a courtroom will view the termination as having been forced to leave. In line with the California Supreme Courtroom: “constructive discharge happens when the organization’s behavior effectively forces an employee to resign.” 

If a constructive discharge is determined to have taken place, then the employment relationship is deemed to have been terminated involuntarily by way of the organization’s actions, despite the fact that the employee may additionally said “I quit.” In this sense, a constructive discharge is legally dealt with as a firing, as opposed to a resignation. 

Proving Constructive Discharge

The California Supreme Courtroom’s system of the constructive discharge doctrine offers us an idea of why courts have the doctrine, however, it doesn’t without a doubt provide an explanation for what employees want to reveal to prove that their resignation was a termination. 

An employee must prove the following elements to show that they were constructively discharged: 

  • A reasonable organization might have realized that a person in the employee’s position would be forced to resign 
  • Intolerable working conditions existed at the time of the worker’s resignation 
  • The organization deliberately created or knowingly permitted these intolerable working conditions 
  • The working conditions are so surprisingly negative that a reasonable worker might have felt forced to resign 

Intolerable Work Conditions

The most important hurdle in figuring out whether a resignation is a constructive discharge is whether or not work situations were truly intolerable. The bar for intolerable work situations is actually pretty high. Intolerable work situations often consist of constant yelling, screaming, intimidating, or disparaging a plaintiff. 

California courts have discovered that the following situations alone do not result in intolerable working conditions: 

  • Demotion 
  • Former subordinate’s promotion over the employee, requiring the employee to answer to a person they used to supervise 
  • Reassignment to night shifts 
  • Reduction in pay 
  • Single incidents of mistreatment 
  • Transfer to another branch 
  • Unfair performance evaluations 

What Can Employees Do?

If a worker hasn’t quit, they should communicate with an employment attorney about the facts of their case. Employees should no longer anticipate that their working conditions will meet the marker for constructive discharge. In the event that they make the assumption that their resignation is a termination, they may be incorrect and they will be waiving important rights for themselves. As an alternative, it’s best to discuss any problems with a legal professional who is comfortable working with constructive discharge cases. 

If the employee has already quit, that employee may additionally have important legal rights. However, these legal rights can also have brief time windows of opportunity to pursue action. So, it is crucial for the employee to act fast. The employee should contact an employment attorney to determine whether or not their employer violated their rights and possibly wrongfully terminated them. 

Do You Have a Case?

There are numerous factors while determining whether or not our clients have a strong case. You would possibly have a very good case if one or more of the following facts are present: 

  • Work hours, Pay, or another area of work condition was reduced because you complained about legal rights forcing you to quit and find another employer 

Retaliated against or forced to quit 

  • After complaining about an unsafe or illegal practice at work (like an OSHA violation or a labor law violation) 
  • Because you requested a reasonable accommodation for a serious medical illness 
  • For being pregnant or for requesting accommodations for your pregnancy 
  • For complaining about your legal rights 
  • For requesting a medical accommodation for your injury or a disability 

Constructive discharge requires a careful understanding of your facts and can occur in many ways. If any of the above has happened to you, please contact Potter Handy, LLP to determine if your rights were violated and if you are entitled to backpay, missing wages, and civil penalties. 

Call (415) 534-1911 or email us to schedule a free, confidential consultation.