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When constructive discharge becomes wrongful termination

When starting a new job, employees may feel excited, anxious and a little overwhelmed, but they settle in after a few weeks. The work is interesting, and co-workers are kind and helpful. The manager's style is supportive, rather than punitive.

Businesses can experience a constant state of change. Employees leave, and new people replace them. An economic downturn sparks added job duties that may cause stress for workers. The perfect job can become the perfect nightmare if business leaders sequester themselves from what they consider to be mundane workplace dynamics.  

What are the conditions for wrongful termination?

"Employment-At-Will" is a law under which either the company or the employee may terminate an employment relationship at any time without explanation. Some employers would like their workers to believe they have no rights under this type of work law, but that is not the case. Employment-at-will does not protect businesses from all consequences of employee termination or voluntary departure.

Protection for at-will workers exists at both the state and federal levels. No at-will employer can trespass labor laws that protect workers from discrimination. The employer also cannot allow wrongful behavior toward an employee from supervisors or coworkers who relentlessly and illegally harass a fellow employee until the person quits.

What does it mean to experience constructive discharge?

The legal term "constructive discharge" means that an employee decides to leave a job due to intolerable work conditions. In effect, the worker "terminates" his or her own employment. A manager may insist the worker decided to leave when in reality, unmitigated company persecution forced the person out. A constructive discharge claim can be valid under certain conditions:

  • Coworkers spread false rumors about the employee's work and home life.
  • Human resources or management ignore a worker's claim of harassment.
  • Unfair treatment endured by a worker singles her out from other employees.
  • A boss or coworkers shut the employee out and refuse to communicate.
  • Abrasive insults, discriminatory "jokes" or subtle innuendos regularly occur. 
  • A supervisor often micromanages, humiliates or publicly berates the worker. 
  • The employee's department withholds information or tools he needs to do his job. 
  • The boss sabotages an employee with an impossible workload and an unrealistic deadline, followed by accusations of incompetence.

When the worker leaves a job under these conditions, the law views it as if the company wrongfully discharged the person. Anyone who suffers this type of harassment or even suspects he or she is a target of egregious work discrimination should review constructive discharge laws at the state and federal levels. The worker can examine all options before deciding to take action against the employer. An employee can still file a claim for wrongful termination caused by constructive discharge after leaving a company. The law protects American workers from unfair employment practices.

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