Employees who aren’t fired—but who quit because they claim their employers have made things too unbearable to continue working—can sue as if they had been fired. By claiming they were “constructively discharged,” they can turn what their employers think are voluntary resignations into lawsuits.
Often, constructive discharge cases grow out of a disciplinary process rife with harassment. An employee may suspect that his employer is trying to get him to quit. If a jury agrees, that can mean a large damage award.
To cut the risk, have HR administer any discipline, and do so in private and in a way that preserves the employee’s dignity.
Recent case: Craig Meszes, who has HIV, worked for the St. Augustine post office for years. When his condition worsened, he got his doctor to certify he needed to work a regular 40-hour workweek, not the 60 to 80 hours he had been working. The post office reassigned him.
Then his supervisor started criticizing his work. Finally, while the supervisor explained that he would be demoted for poor work, Meszes wept. He claimed that the supervisor made him stand as the paperwork was read and mocked him when he cried.
Meszes sued, alleging retaliation and constructive discharge. The court ordered a trial, saying there was evidence that the supervisor treated Meszes so poorly he had no choice but to quit. A jury will now weigh in. (Meszes v. Potter, No. 3:04-505, MD FL, 2007)