An employee who feels harassed, discriminated or otherwise treated unfairly at his workplace may learn the term “constructive discharge” from his co-workers or from doing his own research, and will assume that quitting a job where he feels harassed or stressed out will automatically create a constructive discharge claim, entitling him to relief in court.
In reality, the standard for proving constructive discharge claim is much higher than a typical worker understands it to be. In Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994), the California Supreme Court held that constructive discharge occurs when the employer’s conduct effectively forces an employee to resign, which is legally regarded as firing an employee. To be deemed a constructive discharge, the court noted, an employer must create or permit working conditions so intolerable or aggravated that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would fee compelled to resign. These employment conditions must be sufficiently extraordinary and egregious to overcome the normal motivation of a competent, diligent, and reasonable employee to remain on the job, to earn a livelihood and to serve the employer. The circumstances giving rise to constructive discharge must be unusually aggravated or amount to a “continuous pattern” before the situation will be deemed intolerable. Single, trivial or isolated acts are insufficient to support a constructive discharge claim. Thus, the court continued, a poor performance rating or a demotion, even when accompanied by reduction in pay, does not by itself trigger a constructive discharge.
As the above language indicates, the employee must consider his options carefully before quitting his job in reliance on having a potential constructive discharge claim in court. It is highly recommend to consult an attorney before quitting the job to evaluate your work conditions and consider legal action along with other viable alternatives, short of quitting and suing.