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Some employees have heard through the legal grapevine that if the going gets tough at work, they can just get going. They believe they can up and quit—and then turn around and sue, claiming that they had no choice but to leave because they were suffering retaliation for taking some protected action. This is an example of “constructive discharge.” But conditions have to be pretty onerous before the tactic works.
Employers that act fast when an employee complains about any form of harassment can almost always salvage what would otherwise be a very bad situation. The key is prompt investigation—followed by equally fast and decisive action if it turns out the complaint has merit.
Here’s a problem that is easily solved. An employee complains that she’s being harassed by a co-worker. If you can easily separate the two, do so sooner rather than later. Merely having a complaint lodged may be enough to stop the harasser. But his continued presence can still mean you’re allowing a sexually hostile work environment to exist.
If you carefully document disciplinary actions and punish all employees fairly, courts will usually uphold your decisions. That’s because an employee who challenges the reason for her discharge has to show that the reason wasn’t legitimate—that, rather, the rationale was merely a pretext for some form of discrimination. And it takes more than just coincidence to do that.