What Does Constructive Discharge Mean?
Constructive discharge means that even though you were not fired because you quit, the circumstances that caused you to quit were so bad that no reasonable person would continue to work under those conditions. For example, if your boss grabs your buttocks, you can walk out the door and claim that it is not part of your job to be sexually accosted. No reasonable jury would tell you that you have to put up with sexually offensivebehavior at work. The standard is really a difficult standard to meet in less obvious cases. However, if a coworker (rather than a boss) grabs your buttocks, you have to complain in writing and allow the employer a short amount of time to take appropriate action to prevent future harassment from your coworker. Either way, to be constructively terminated, you have to convince 9 out of 12 jurors that no reasonable person would continue to work under those conditions.
If my employer violated the terms in the employee handbook by firing me, can I hold them responsible?
Oftentimes, you can use the fact of an employer’s failure to follow its own policies as part of proving that the stated reason for your termination offered by the employer was false. That is called pretext. You can use their failure to follow their own progressive discipline policy as a way to show that they really didn’t intend to discipline and correct your behavior. Rather that they were just using discipline as an excuse to fire you. Employee handbooks are helpful for proving pretext, but they are not absolute. There are certain policies in an employee handbook that allow the employer to fire the employee if they are accused of workplace violence or other serious accusations, like theft. Some of the hardest cases to fight are where the employee has to prove their innocence when faced with these kinds of allegations. But even allegations of theft are often hard for the jury to believe in the case of long-term employees. Conversely, when it is proved that the charges are false, and that the employer knew the whole time the charges were false, these circumstance lead to higher jury awards because the jury becomes angry with the employer, and will often punish them with a higher verdict.
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