Constructive Discharge – Fired by Conduct: What it Means and Next Steps

Constructive Discharge: Understanding Your Rights in the Workplace


In the realm of employment law, constructive discharge is a concept that often raises eyebrows and piques curiosity. It refers to a situation where an employee resigns from their position due to intolerable working conditions created by the employer. Essentially, the employee’s resignation is deemed involuntary, as the employer’s actions or omissions make it virtually impossible for the individual to continue working. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the concept of constructive discharge, its legal implications, and how it affects employees in California.


Understanding Constructive Discharge: Constructive discharge occurs when an employer, either intentionally or through a pattern of behavior, creates an unbearable work environment that would reasonably lead an employee to quit. While there is no specific law that defines constructive discharge, courts have recognized it as a legal doctrine to protect employees from unfair treatment.


To establish a claim of constructive discharge, employees must demonstrate the following elements:


  1. Intolerable Working Conditions: The working conditions must be so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would find them intolerable. This can include situations such as harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or a significant change in job responsibilities without proper justification.

  2. Employer’s Intent or Knowledge: The employer must either intend to force the employee to resign or be aware that their actions could result in the employee’s resignation.

  3. Employee’s Resignation: The employee must show that they quit their job as a direct result of the intolerable working conditions created by the employer.


Legal Implications in California: In California, constructive discharge is treated as a form of wrongful termination. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers are prohibited from creating a hostile work environment based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and more. If an employee can prove that the intolerable working conditions leading to their resignation were motivated by such discrimination, they may have a strong constructive discharge claim.


Moreover, California courts apply an objective standard when evaluating constructive discharge claims. This means that the working conditions must be so severe that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign, not just the individual employee. It is crucial to gather evidence, such as documentation of incidents, witness testimonies, and any attempts to address the issue with supervisors or human resources, to support the claim.


Seeking Remedies: Employees who succeed in proving constructive discharge may be entitled to remedies similar to those available in wrongful termination cases. These can include compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, reinstatement, and even punitive damages if the employer’s actions were particularly egregious.


Constructive discharge is a legal concept designed to protect employees from intolerable working conditions that force them to resign. If you find yourself in a situation where you believe your work environment is becoming unbearable due to your employer’s actions or omissions, it is essential to consult with an employment attorney to understand your rights and options. Remember, the law aims to safeguard employees and ensure fair treatment in the workplace.


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