Constructive dismissal is a type of wrongful termination claim. A wrongful constructive dismissal occurs when an employer wrongfully makes the working conditions at your job hostile enough that you are forced to quit. Your termination must also be in violation of your employment contract or of public policy. At Swartz Swidler, our attorneys assist workers who lost their jobs through wrongful constructive discharges.
A constructive discharge is when a worker quits because his or her working conditions have become so poor that it is impossible for him or her to continue working for the employer. Despite the fact that you quit voluntarily, a constructive discharge can still be found if you did not have a reasonable alternative because of your terrible working conditions.
In a constructive dismissal case, your resignation will be overlooked because the employment relationship is considered to have been involuntarily terminated by your employer’s actions. If your employer’s actions were unlawful or in breach of a contract, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.
What are the elements of a constructive dismissal claim?
You are not able to quit and then simply claim that you were constructively fired. You will instead be required to prove the elements of constructive discharge, including the following:
- The conditions at your job were so adverse that a reasonable worker in your position would have felt it necessary to resign; and
- Your employer either intended to force you to quit or had actual knowledge of the terrible working conditions.
You must be able to show that the conditions at your job that lead to your resignation were egregious enough to overcome your motivation to remain at your job.
In general, there must have been a continuing pattern of egregious conduct before your termination will be considered to be a constructive termination. Having a single negative job evaluation will not be enough to establish a constructive discharge. If there was a serious single act such as an act of violence by your employer against you or a requirement by your employer that you commit a crime, it might be enough to amount to a constructive discharge.
Courts consider a number of factors when they determine whether the working conditions were intolerable enough to find a constructive dismissal, including the following:
- Whether your employer asked you to engage in illegal activities
- Whether your employer investigated or acknowledged your complaints
- The nature of your employer’s illegal conduct
- The amount of time that passed between the illegal conduct and your resignation
Reasonable person standard
Courts look at your working conditions through a reasonable person standard rather than through your personal perceptions. Courts consider whether a reasonable person in your situation would find the conditions to be unusually adverse. If a reasonable person would not find the conditions to be intolerable, your resignation will be considered to be voluntary.
The knowledge of an employer
You must be able to prove that your employer intended to create or to maintain terrible working conditions or that your employer knew that the conditions existed. If your employer was unaware of the conditions, it is unlikely to amount to a constructive dismissal.
If the conditions are unbearable, it is generally the responsibility of workers to notify someone in management so that they have the chance to correct the problems. If you did not tell your employer, and your employer did not learn about them independently, you will be unlikely to be successful in a claim of wrongful constructive discharge.
Workers are generally presumed to be at-will employees. This means that you can be terminated with or without cause at any time. The law does not require that your employer is fair or that it offers you a working environment that is free of stress. However, your employer is prohibited from discriminating or acting in other unlawful ways.
Learn more from Swartz Swidler
If you think that your resignation was a constructive discharge for an illegal reason, you may have legal remedies available to you. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can evaluate your potential claim and provide you with an honest assessment. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.