Respected. Dedicated. Honest.

What is constructive discharge?

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2022 | Employment Law |

Many employees in New Jersey find their work circumstances intolerable. Perhaps they are subject to racial discrimination or sexual harassment at work, or perhaps their supervisor treats them unfairly when compared other workers based upon race. In any event, these individuals develop a strong urge to quit their jobs, but they are afraid that a voluntary resignation would constitute a surrender of any claim for damages based upon the conditions of the employment and any discriminatory treatment. The solution is a legal concept known as constructive discharge or wrongful discrimination.

Constructive discharge in a nutshell

The constructive discharge doctrine holds that an employer may not subject an employee to intolerable working conditions and that an employee who is subjected to such conditions may terminate the employment and still bring a claim for damages caused by the employer’s conduct. An employee who contends that a resignation was forced by the employer’s wrongful conduct must prove that a reasonable person working in similar circumstances would find the conditions intolerable. In some states,  the employee must also prove that the employer was aware of the intolerable working conditions and refused to take action to ameliorate the conditions.

To state the rule a bit differently, constructive discharge consists of a serious of actions (or inactions) by the employer that renders the work environment intolerable. The employer’s actions must be shown to be sufficiently extraordinary and egregious to overcome the motivation of a competent and reasonable employee to remain on the job. The employee’s decision to quit was in fact made by the employer as a means of punishing the employee because of racial or gender differences.

Reasonable person standard

In New Jersey and most other states, the courts require the aggrieved employee to prove that a reasonable person would find the work conditions unusually egregious and intolerable. An employee cannot prove constructive discharge simply by testifying that he or she objected to the working conditions.


Anyone who believes that they are working under extremely adverse conditions may wish to consult an experienced employment attorney for an assessment of the work situation and an opinion about whether a constructive discharge claim is likely to succeed.