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Constructive Discharge: Can You Still Sue if You Voluntarily Quit?

Written By: Mo Eldessouky Updated On: June 4, 2024 | Read Time: 8 Minutes

In California, unreasonable working conditions can force an employee to quit, leading to a constructive discharge claim. Constructive discharge allows employees to seek the same legal rights as those wrongfully terminated. By proving that the work environment was intolerable, employees can claim damages and pursue justice. It’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney to navigate a constructive discharge case effectively.

There are certain things your employer can’t fire you for. They can’t fire you for whistleblowing or union activity. They can’t fire you because they are prejudiced against you for protected identity traits. So, when an employer really tries to push out an employee, sometimes they subtly force them to quit. This is known as constructive discharge, and it is against California labor laws.

If you were driven out of your position by abusive treatment or an intolerable work environment, you can still sue if you quit your job. The California employment attorneys of  Eldessouky Law know how to help you prove that your employer forced you to quit in lieu of wrongful termination.

What is Constructive Discharge?

Constructive discharge is when an employee forces a member of their staff to leave the job due to unbearable circumstances.

It is a form of firing someone through harassment instead of taking legal responsibility for the dismissal. Your employer “constructs” a situation where you would have to leave the job just to protect your health, sanity, or ability to make a living.

If you are fired, you gain access to unemployment benefits and your employer may be investigated for retaliation firing. If you quit, however, your employer assumes that both of those possibilities go out the window.

Constructive discharge cases typically feature a hostile and/or unsafe work environment intentionally or negligently created by the employer for the purpose of causing an employee to quit.

Beyond harassment and a hostile work environment, unsafe working conditions can also be grounds for filing a constructive discharge claim in California. Employees who are forced to quit due to dangerous or hazardous work environments may seek legal recourse for constructive discharge.

Support in Suing an Abusive Employer After You Quit

If you have been intentionally driven from employment, you have recourse. With the help of a California employment attorney, you can sue for wrongful termination and seek damages not only for being improperly discharged, but also for the suffering inflicted during your employer’s campaign to drive you out.

Legal Grounds for Suing After You Quit

If your employer has taken abusive or potentially harmful actions to induce you to quit, you have legal grounds to sue. You can claim a settlement based on the effort to dive you out in addition to hardship endured by lost wages, stress, damage to your health, and the emotional distress caused by the situation.

Hostility and Harassment

A manager and even an entire team may conspire to use harassment and hostility to force you to quit. They may berate you for small mistakes or even make up mistakes to attack you for. They may try public embarrassment, shouting, insults, or encouraging others to gang up on you or socially shun you.

In some cases – especially when the operation is fueled by prejudice and hate – managers have been known to physically attack an employee – grabbing, hitting, or throwing things at them.

Cut, Excessive, or Irregular Hours

Manipulation of the schedule is a common way that employees are made to feel that they have to choose between a job or survival. How a person’s work hours are changed to make the situation desperate can take three forms.

In California, an employee can sue for constructive discharge if their hours are significantly reduced, creating intolerable working conditions. Employers often push employees to quit by frustrating them to the point of resignation, such as by drastically cutting their pay and hours. If this reduction is used as a pretext for discrimination or another unlawful motive, the employee may have grounds for a constructive discharge claim. Understanding your rights and the nuances of constructive discharge is crucial, and consulting with an experienced attorney can help you navigate this complex legal process effectively.

  • Cut hours harassment occurs when a person’s hours are reduced so drastically that they can’t pay the bills but they are officially still occupying their role.
  • Excessive hours harassment occurs when an employee is scheduled for too many, too long, and back-to-back shifts designed to work them to exhaustion.
  • Irregular hours are most common in retail and restaurant work, where a person is scheduled for unpredictable and incompatible times that prevent the person from being able to rest or make plans with back-to-back shifts and surprise reschedulings.

Unsafe and Unbearable Work Environment

The employer may try to place you in a work environment that becomes unbearable. They may move your desk or office, place you in an un-air-conditioned part of the building, or relocate your office to a location that is difficult to commute. 

In more active jobs, this attempt becomes more dangerous. Unsafe work conditions where safety concerns are not addressed, proper equipment is not provided, or supervision is not exercised to keep you safe may make leaving a true survival decision.

But it can also take a more mundane form. For example, suddenly denying a person the usual accommodation for their disability. For many, this can result in unbearable pain or an inability to complete work tasks – for which they will be wrongfully written up.

In California, failure to accommodate employees with disabilities can lead to dangerous workplace conditions. When employers neglect reasonable accommodations, it can compromise the safety and well-being of both the disabled employee and their coworkers. Ensuring proper accommodations not only complies with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) but also maintains a safe and productive work environment.

Why Employers Create Situations Leading to Seek Constructive Discharge

Employers use constructive discharge when they are trying to hide their true reasons for firing someone. They may be hiding illegal activities or illegal policies or are trying to create a team that will submit to shady business practices. There are many improper and illegal reasons an employer might want to get rid of an employee, and overt firing would give them away.


When a manager or organization expresses discrimination through prejudice against a group or type of people, they often try to make them so uncomfortable that they quit. This saves the company from being blamed for firings motivated by prejudice and hate, which would be wrongful termination protected by the EEOC, because they can say the employees left of their own accord.

Personal Conflicts

It is not uncommon for a manger who personally dislikes an employee to begin a campaign to drive them out. Implementing unfair policies and being aggressively negative toward the one hated employee is seen as a way to remove them from the team without taking responsibility for firing someone with good performance for purely personal reasons.


Retaliation is another common reason for constructive discharge. This includes whistleblower retaliation, protected leave retaliation, and wage discussion retaliation. Whistleblowers and injured employees – even those who have not yet filed a report – may be harassed out of their position as a measure of protecting the wrongdoings of the manager or company, and avoiding accusations of illegal retaliation firing.

Examples of Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge can take many forms. Examples of Constructive discharge range from discrimination cases to personal grudges acted out in a way that puts the target in emotional, financial, or even physical danger. The termination is ‘constructed’ when conditions are met where the employee has no reasonable choice but to leave the job out of self-preservation.

  • An employee subject to constant discrimination given the worst assignments, inconvenient locations, and written up for the slightest imperfection quits as they develop a stress condition and depression in response to the mistreatment.
  • A worker who is disliked by their manager is assigned to unsanitary work locations and denied the proper safety gear to complete each job. They quit to protect their health before an accident or illness occurs.
  • A warehouse worker finds their schedule rearranged after asking certain questions. They are suddenly working back-to-back shifts, are denied breaks, and are assigned dangerous multi-person tasks to complete alone. They quit after collapsing during one of many 16-hour work days.
  • A pregnant worker finds their hours reduced and their manager continues to tell them that they will be replaced if they take maternity leave. When they return, they are given a lesser-paying assignment with longer hours and demeaning work while being constantly insulted and harassed. They quit for a job that can pay the bills and to relieve the emotional distress caused by the abuse.

These are just a few examples of how an employer can intentionally create hostile, unsafe, or unbearable working conditions that result in constructive discharge. Each one includes unlawful workplace behaviors or management such that the employer is responsible not only for contriving to force an employee to quit, but also in violating their duties to provide a safe and equal work environment.

How to Prove You Have Been Constructively Discharged

There are two important criteria when proving that you have been constructively discharged. First, you must have been put through unbearable circumstances that push a person beyond typical workplace challenges. Second, your employer must be aware of those circumstances.

Being assaulted by your manager is a singular event that can be seen as constructive discharge. A campaign of harmful policies aimed specifically at you is another good example. But being assigned an office that is not configured for your disability only counts if you make your employer aware and they choose to do nothing. The court will look closely at the employer’s intent and/or opportunity to remedy the situation, so proof is important.

  1. Record any prejudicial or harassing statements. Hostility is very strongly considered in cases of constructive discharge. While the company may try to claim that they were unaware of your situation, a person actively harassing you is proactive.
  2. Report unbearable and unsafe situations. Your employer, including higher management, must have an opportunity to step in. If you have been put in an unsafe, unsanitary, or otherwise unbearable situation – file an official report. Make it clear that you took the proper steps as an employee to seek remedy as if the situation were an oversight or mistake. Failure to take action after your report will stand as evidence in itself.
  3. Keep a journal of the increasing pressure. Constructive discharge efforts often get worse over time. Proving this pattern can also strengthen your case. Keep a journal and any hard evidence you can that things are getting worse.
  4. Make a clear comparison between how you are treated and the treatment of direct coworkers or others in a similar role. A targeted campaign of abuse often stands out.
  5. Provide a cause, if possible. If you know that the constructive discharge is a form of retaliation for discovering wrongdoing, whistleblowing, an injury, or some other root cause, proving that cause can help reveal the reasoning and motivation behind the campaign of harassment.

In a Nutshell: Constructive Discharge in California

In California, to plead constructive discharge as wrongful termination in a legal complaint, the plaintiff must detail the intolerable working conditions they faced. The complaint should include specific instances of the employer’s actions or failures, such as harassment, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions, which made the workplace unbearable. The plaintiff must also allege that these conditions were so severe that a reasonable person in the same situation would have felt compelled to resign, and that the employer intended to create or knowingly allowed these conditions to persist. By establishing these facts, the plaintiff can argue that their resignation was not voluntary, but rather a forced termination, warranting the same legal remedies as wrongful termination.

Get Justice with a California Employment Attorney

If you had to quit your job to protect yourself from increasing workplace abuse or you are currently facing a campaign of constructive discharge, you are not alone. With the help of a California employment attorney, you can stand against your abusive employer and take them to court for constructive discharge. The legal team of Eldessouky Law is here to support you. Contact us online or call 714-409-8991 today for an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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