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What is Constructive Discharge?

Constructive discharge occurs when an employer deliberately creates such adverse working conditions that an employee feels they have no choice but to resign. This term is sometimes also referred to as “constructive termination” or “corrective dismissal.” The key aspect here is the intention of the employer to indirectly force the employee out of the job by making the work environment intolerably difficult.

Constructive Discharge as a Form of Wrongful Termination

Like wrongful termination, constructive discharge is a legal concept used to describe unfair job termination practices. Wrongful termination typically occurs when an employee is fired in violation of legal statutes or contract terms. In contrast, constructive discharge involves the employee resigning, but the underlying reason for their resignation stems from the employer’s improper actions.

Legal Actions in Constructive Discharge Cases

Employees who resign due to constructive discharge can pursue legal actions against their employers. This is akin to cases of direct wrongful termination, where the law seeks to protect employees from unjust treatment and preserve their rights.

Proving Constructive Discharge

Proving a case of constructive discharge can be more complex than proving straightforward wrongful termination. Since the employee technically resigns voluntarily, they must demonstrate that their decision to leave was a direct result of the employer’s unbearable conduct.

Requirements for Proof

  1. Egregious Conduct: The employee must show that there was a pattern of egregious or severe misconduct by the employer. This might include continuous harassment, unsafe work conditions, or systematic discrimination.
  2. One Significant Incident: Although rare, a single severe incident, like an employer committing a violent act against an employee or forcing them to do something illegal, might suffice to claim constructive discharge.
  3. Employer’s Knowledge: It is crucial to establish that the employer was aware, or should have been aware, of the misconduct. For example, if a co-worker was harassing the employee, did the employee report this behavior to a supervisor or human resources? Simply arguing that the employer should have known about the conditions is typically insufficient.

The Reasonable Person Standard

Courts often apply what is known as the “reasonable person standard” in these cases. This standard assesses whether a typical person, in the same situation, would find the working conditions intolerable. This is a subjective measure and can vary significantly from one person to another, which is why the specifics of each case are critical.

Example Scenario

Imagine an employee who works in a factory where safety measures are routinely ignored. Despite multiple complaints to management, no action is taken to improve conditions. Over time, several minor accidents occur, heightening the risk of serious injury. Feeling that their safety is disregarded and that further complaints would be futile, the employee decides to resign. This scenario could potentially meet the criteria for constructive discharge, as the employer was aware of the issues and failed to rectify them, leading to intolerable working conditions.

Seeking Legal Advice

If you suspect that you might be a victim of constructive discharge, consulting with a qualified attorney is essential. An experienced lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options. For instance, in Arizona, legal professionals specializing in employment law can offer guidance on whether your circumstances constitute a viable claim of constructive discharge.


Understanding constructive discharge is crucial for anyone entering the workforce. It equips employees with the knowledge to recognize when their rights are being compromised and the steps they can take to seek justice. Recognizing the signs of constructive discharge helps maintain fair and safe working environments for all.

J. Horowitz
J. Horowitz

J. Horowitz leverages over two decades of experience as a seasoned employment law attorney in Arizona to offer insightful freelance writing on the same subject. After a successful career advocating for fairness and justice in the workplace, J. now dedicates his expertise to writing comprehensive articles, blog posts, and thought leadership pieces that illuminate the complexities of employment law.