“Constructive discharge” or “constructive termination” is yet another often misunderstood term in California employment law. Under California law, an employee is considered constructively discharged when his employer either created or knowingly permitted that employee to be subjected to objectively intolerable working conditions, causing that employee to resign. This then effective becomes a wrongful termination case.
“Objectively intolerable” is a high standard that few workplace situations meet. Simply being treated in a hurtful or unfair manner will not be sufficient to make a constructive termination claim. Receiving unfair performance review, being demoted or being falsely accused of certain misconduct at workplace, being yelled at, being micromanaged, or even belittled at workplace, is usually not enough to make a constructive discharge case. Likewise, the fact that you suffer from serious emotional or mental issues as a result of the way you have been treated at work, does not mean that you may bring a constructive discharge claim. You may, however, be able to file a workers compensation claim for the psych injury suffered.
To make a valid constructive termination claim, the working conditions must be such that a reasonable person in that employee’s condition would feel like he has no other reasonable choice but to quit. There are two main types of typical situation that may give rise to a constructive termination claim:
(1) violence or threats of violence at workplace, egregious sexual or racial harassment, serious safety violations by the employer that put the resigning employees life or health at risk, etc.
(2) intolerable working conditions caused by the employer’s refusal to accommodate an employees disability, which leaves no viable choice to that employee except to quit his job. Again, simply waiting a bit longer than expected for an accommodation or not receiving a perfect accommodation to a disability will not suffice to support a constructive termination claim. An employee will have to show that he explored pretty much every possible way to stay at work, but the employer refused to do what it could and should have done in order to allow the employee to continue being employed, given that employee’s medical limitations.
Here is an extreme example of a constructive termination situation. Consider an employee who was involved in a catastrophic car accident. He loses his legs, and he is now in a wheelchair. His job requires him to be in the office every day. He requests that an employer consider installing a ramp or any other equipment to allow that employee to move around the office. Or, if that’s not possible, the employee requests to work from home. The employer then says that no ramps will be installed and working remotely is not an option, so if the employee cannot come in to work and move around the office as is, then he is welcome to resign. Clearly, in this situation, the employee would have no choice but resign.
If you consider resigning from your employment and you believe that you will have a valid constructive discharge claim, you should discuss your employment situation and your plans to quit with an experienced employment attorney before you actually resign. This will help you determine whether you will potentially have a constructive termination claim. If you believe that you have been constructive terminated or that you are facing “objectively intolerable” conditions at work that would potentially give rise to a constructive discharge claim, feel free to contact us to discuss your potential claims.