What is Constructive Termination in California Law?
How Can They File A Wrongful Termination Claim When They Quit?
If you are a regular reader of our blog you know that we talk about Wrongful Termination quite a bit. That’s because when you are defending California business owners against employees this is a very common claim. This claim usually comes about when an employee feels that you terminated their employment unjustly and their is a claim filed to see if they can prove that. The keywords hear are “YOU terminated their employment”.
But did you know that in California an employee can file a wrongful termination claim against you even if they chose to QUIT and you did not actually FIRE them!
By any Name still a Pain
So the first thing to know is that this type of claim is known as a few different names. It is often called: Constructive Dismissal, Constructive Discharge or Constructive Termination. Don’t let the different terms confuse you. Basically the word constructive followed by a word meaning the employee left is the way to confirm we are on the same page.
What is Constructive Termination?
So, lets take a closer look at this law and what it means. In a Constructive termination (discharge) case the employee making the claim must prove that the employer intentionally made the working conditions for the individual so unbearable that they had no choice but to quit. Even if it was not the employer who created the working conditions, if they knew about them and did nothing, the employee could still have a claim.
How hard is it to prove a Constructive Termination?
As mentioned previously, the employee must prove that their work conditions were made intolerable and any “reasonable person” who was in the same position would have quit as well. How hard it would be to prove of course, depends on the situation. If the employee has a record of reporting their complaints to management they may have a better chance. After all you as the employer could very well not know that the employee felt they were being treated wrong and it would be hard to hold you responsible if there is no record that you were ever made aware of the issue.
Also the employee must prove that the treatment that “forced” them to quit was unbearable or intolerable. Usually one isolated workplace incident is not going to meet that requirement. If they can prove a ongoing cycle of inappropriate behavior or actions against them they will have a better case. If they are claiming some type of harassment or discrimination against them, it will usually need to be pretty serious to have to meet the standard that any reasonable person would quit in the same situation.
How to protect your business against constructive termination claim?
Well we say it all the time. The most affordable insurance against any type of employee claim are labor attorney drafted Employee Handbooks. They cannot guarantee you wont see claims but they are the most affordable way to reduce the risk with ours being available for under $100.
An employee handbook will have procedures in place so your managers will not act inappropriately towards employees. The employees themselves will be less likely to make a claim because they will refer to their handbook and find the relevant policy. They can then take that to their manager or you the business owner and get the situation resolved before it escalates.
Besides really good Employee Handbooks, you will want to make sure you document as much as possible. If you see that an employee is going to be a problem, record the dates of incidents, as well as what happened and any eye witness accounts if possible. The more information you have when a claim goes to the courts the better off you will be.
Thirdly, make sure if you are having problems with an employee you DO NOT take a retaliatory action against them! It may give you some temporary satisfaction but it might come back to bite you later. California is an “at will employment” state so you have many options to fire a problem employee. You dont want to take any actions against them that could be seen as breaking the employment and labor laws to avoid future claims.
Lastly, if you have a constructive termination claim made against you or just have an employee issue you do not know how to deal with contact professional labor attorneys today. It will cost money in attorney fees but it may well save you a ton of money and possibly your business against an employee related claim.
We are professional labor attorneys who specialize in defending California business owners. Contact Us Today!