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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

Understanding constructive discharge

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2022 | Wrongful Termination |

Most everyone has known someone who quit their job because they were miserable. Everyone has their own breaking point. Some people can let a boss’s constant yelling roll right off them, while others are reduced to tears at any amount of criticism. 

“Constructive discharge” or “constructive dismissal” is when an employer creates conditions that a reasonable person would find intolerable. Generally, it involves a number of actions over time that create what is often called a “hostile work environment,” although it can potentially be one particularly egregious action.

It is a type of wrongful termination. However, it can be considerably more challenging to prove in a legal claim, and the burden of proof is on the employee

What is required to prove constructive discharge?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines “constructive discharge” as when “the employer has created a hostile or intolerable work environment or has applied other forms of pressure or coercion which forced the employee to quit or resign.” It usually, but not always, involves “significant and severe changes in the terms and conditions of a worker’s employment.”

In order to bring a constructive discharge claim, you need to show that you reported the intolerable conditions to the appropriate people – such as your boss (or maybe their boss if yours was the problem) and to Human Resources if your employer had this department. In other words, they needed to know that conditions were intolerable and fail to do anything about it.

What’s behind constructive discharge?

It’s not your responsibility to show why your employer would try to force you out. However, it can help strengthen your case. Maybe if they’d terminated you, you would have been entitled to a large severance they didn’t want to pay. 

It’s not uncommon for discrimination to be at the heart of constructive discharge. Maybe, for example, your employer just wasn’t “comfortable” dealing with someone of your race, ethnicity or with a disability. They knew better than to be openly discriminatory. However, they wanted you out, so they made your workplace intolerable.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of constructive discharge, it’s wise to obtain legal guidance. You may be able to seek justice and compensation.