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Constructive dismissal: When you're forced to quit

One of the most pervasive myths about wrongful termination claims is that you have to wait until you're fired to have a case.

Not only isn't it true, it could harm your career -- you may be forced to make a leap to a lower-paying job or step outside your career, but at least you won't have to tell your former employer you were fired.

If you've been forced out of a job when the only other option was to try to work under intolerable or impossible conditions, you may have a case for constructive discharge.

It's all a question of reasonable behavior

Normally, wrongful terminations involve an illegal firing. In a constructive discharge case, the court looks to see if any reasonable person would have done the same thing under the circumstances the plaintiff was in:

  • Did the employer "suggest" that the employee would be wise to just pick up his or her things and go without actually saying he or she was fired?
  • Did the employer promise to make the employee "miserable" if he or she stayed?
  • Was the employee transferred to a location that was prohibitively far away from his or her home and family with no reason, warning or option?
  • Was the employee given a sudden demotion or assigned menial duties in order to try to demean him or her in front of co-workers?
  • Was the resignation in response to being told to commit an act the employee knew was either illegal or unethical?

In essence, in order to treat "I quit!" as "You're fired!," the court has to determine that the employee's reaction to the adversity was reasonable.

A single act may or may not count

It's important to remember that not every adverse condition is going to equal a constructive discharge -- one bad review of your job or a demotion that's justifiable isn't going to sway the court. However, if you're suddenly called into your supervisor's office and told that you can't be trusted to do more than clean cubicles instead of work in one -- that's an act obviously intended to push you to your limit.

If you're wondering if you might have a constructive discharge case, don't guess -- instead learn more about this action and your legal options.

Source: Findlaw, "Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination," accessed Sep. 28, 2017

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