The concept of constructive discharge is similar to the idea of constructive eviction in property law. Constructive discharge occurs when an employee claims - and can demonstrate - that he or she had no choice but to quit a job because of intolerable conditions. The employer doesn't actually fire the employee. Instead, the employee claims that the working conditions were so horrific that quitting was his or her only option. Constructive discharge often corresponds with a hostile work environment, although a claim of constructive discharge typically requires even more proof than a hostile work environment claim.

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How Can an Employer Be Found Liable?

The employer doesn't have to be personally involved in the conduct that led to the constructive discharge to be liable for it. Claims of constructive discharge fall under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior, which holds that an employer is liable for acts of his employees while they are working within the scope of that employment. Depending on who is involved in the behavior in question, the employer may face different levels of liability. He may be considered jointly liable, if he or his business partners are directly involved, or he may be found liable through respondeat superior. The results are generally the same, in terms of the damages awarded. The distinction comes down to whether the employer can use business funds to pay punitive damages or must use personal funds as well. Joint liability is a personal liability, not just a failure of oversight, and it must be paid with personal funds.

What Can an Employer Do to Protect Themselves from a Constructive Discharge Claim?

To avoid these potential ramifications, employers must keep thorough records of all disciplinary acts and situations. The reasons for any disciplinary action, whether taken by the employer directly or by a subordinate, should be noted. Similarly, attempts to remedy a hostile workplace situation should be recorded, so that the employer can demonstrate that those responsible for creating the hostile situation were not acting within the scope of their employment. These records may help employers prove they are not liable in the event of a constructive discharge complaint.

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