Constructive Discharge Law California

Brad Nakase, Attorney


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Not everyone likes his or her job and for many different reasons. However, if the workplace conditions are the reason for your disdain and you leave, you may not have actually quit; there are times when workplace conditions cause terminations, or constructive discharge.

“Constructive discharge occurs when the employer’s conduct effectively forces an employee to resign. Although the employee may say “I quit,” the employment relationship is actually severed involuntarily by the employer’s acts, against the employee’s will. As a result, a constructive discharge is legally regarded as a firing rather than a resignation.” Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 1238.


An employee cannot simply “quit and sue,” claiming he or she was constructively discharged. The conditions giving rise to the resignation 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 his or her employer. The proper focus is on whether the resignation was coerced, not whether it was simply one rational option for the employee. Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 1238.


What is constructive discharge?

Constructive discharge arises when work conditions are so bad, the employee ends up leaving but in reality, has been forced to quit creating a termination by the employer. The test is object and looks at whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances and conditions of employment would have no reasonable option but to quit.[1] Understanding whether you have quit or been fired is important because certain benefits are given to those who have been fired while they are not given to those who quit like:

  • Unemployment

  • Wrongful termination suits

  • Damages

  • Discrimination suits

 

When have I been constructively discharged?

The court will look at the circumstances of the employment including the working conditions, interactions with others, the work given to the employee compared to others, etc.


Further, the objective test stated above will be applied and the outcome must be that the employee was treated so poorly, he or she was basically forced out the door.[2] This bar is really high to prove and the courts have found that reduced pay, transfers, reassigning of shifts, demotions, and other incidents of mistreatment are not enough to prove constructive discharge.[3] If this is found, termination in fact occurred even if the employee stated, “I quit.”[4]


What to do if you feel you have been constructively discharged?

The best option is to speak with a lawyer and he or she will analyze your specific case at hand. If you have already left your position, there are statute of limitations in place and the clock is ticking so it is important to be proactive about your options, especially if you wish to file a suit.

Test (Elements) for Constructive Discharge

“The Courts of Appeal have devised and applied the following test for constructive discharge: An employee who is forced to resign due to actions and conditions so intolerable or aggravated at the time of his resignation that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have resigned, and whose employer had actual or constructive knowledge of the intolerable actions and conditions and of their impact upon the employee and could have remedied the situation, but did not, is constructively discharged.” Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 1238.

“The conditions giving rise to the resignation 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 his or her employer. The proper focus is on whether the resignation was coerced, not whether it was simply one rational option for the employee.” Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 1238.

To win a trial, the jury is has to decide:


Plaintiff Paul claims that Defendant Dan forced him to resign for reasons that violate public policy. It is a violation of public policy [specify claim in case, e.g., for an employer to require an employee to work more than 40 hours a week for less than minimum wage].

To establish this claim, Plaintiff Paul must prove all of the following:

    1. That Plaintiff Paul was employed by Defendant Dan;

    2. That Plaintiff Paul was subjected to working conditions that violated public policy, in that [describe conditions imposed on the employee that constitute the violation, e.g., “Plaintiff Paul was required to work more than 40 hours a week for less than minimum wage”];

    3. That Defendant Dan intentionally created or knowingly permitted these working conditions;

    4. That these working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person in Plaintiff Paul’s position would have had no reasonable alternative except to resign;

    5. That Plaintiff Paul resigned because of these working conditions;

    6. That Plaintiff Paul was harmed; and

    7. That the working conditions were a substantial factor in causing Plaintiff Paul’s harm.

To be intolerable, the adverse working conditions must be unusually aggravated or involve a continuous pattern of mistreatment. Trivial acts are insufficient. CACI No. 2432

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Legal Reference

[1][Colores v. Bd. Of Trs., 105 Cal. App, 4th 1293, 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 347 (2003).

[2] Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1238, 1244.

[3] Id.

[4] Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1238, 1244–1245.

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