Firing people for their gender, race, sexual identity, becoming pregnant, voting, or having been in the military are all illegal in Wisconsin, Illinois and most other states. But some employers like to imagine that quitting for these same reasons is somehow another thing entirely.
Fortunately for workers, there are also laws prohibiting retaliation against employees and an all-too-familiar experience that legally goes by an unfamiliar name, constructive termination.
What is constructive termination?
Constructive termination is when an employee quits because the employer created a work environment so unusually miserable that the worker, or any reasonable worker in a similar situation, would feel a strong need to quit, just to make it stop.
The employee may lose their health insurance and unemployment compensation, but sometimes it feels worth it. The law recognizes certain situations like this as not quitting at all. Under the law, it can legally count as firing the employee.
How do courts tell if quitting was termination?
For courts to consider it constructive termination, the employer must either intend to make the employee quit or the employer just has to understand how intolerable the employer is making the workplace for the employee.
To see enough evidence of this, courts usually need to see either an ongoing pattern of behavior causing the misery, or specific events (maybe even just one incident) that stand out as clearly and unusually inexcusable.
It can happen for many reasons, familiar and unfamiliar
Such poor behavior, unfortunately, can have a wide variety of motivations.
Retaliation for complaining about a supervisor or the work environment they create is common. Simply having to supervise or work beside someone of another gender or race may lead to such behavior. Often, bosses forcing workers to break the law by turning back odometers or serving underage drinkers can make an employee feel extremely vulnerable to lawsuits or arrest.
These are complex and challenging cases, legally and emotionally. A qualified attorney experienced in employment law can help you decide whether a case of quitting a toxic job is a case of wrongful and constructive termination.