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Explaining constructive discharge

For many of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace in Kansas City, the office environment can become so bad that they feel as though they have no choice but to quit. Some may think that doing so would seemingly solve all of their problems; after all, they would no longer be subjected to the harassing behavior that was causing them such stress. Yet the question must be asked as to how could an employer allow a situation to become so bad that employees would be forced to contemplate quitting, and whether or not they may be held liable for such action (or inaction). 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a person quitting due to a hostile work environment is known as a constructive discharge. It is based on the belief that the workplace environment can be so toxic that any reasonable person would feel compelled to quit. In such a situation, the employer may claim to be absolved of responsibility in the matter, claiming that the employee voluntarily left. Liability may remain with it, however, if it is believed that it was complicit in allowing the hostile environment to arise. 

Former employees cannot simply claim constructive discharge whenever they leave a company; rather, there are elements that must be present in order for this legal principle to apply. Instructions issued to juries by the Missouri Supreme Court show those to be: 

  • An employee was subjected to hostile working conditions
  • These conditions were the primary reason behind him or her quitting 
  • As a result, he or she sustained damages (e.g., loss of income, emotional distress)

In cases of harassing behavior, a fourth element is often considered, that being whether the employer did nothing to curb it or used it to effectively force the employee out. 

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