We recently came across a case that provides a good opportunity to revisit the legal theory of “constructive discharge” and the various factors that are used to determine whether an employee quits voluntarily or because his or her employer has made working conditions so intolerable that quitting is the only option. When the latter occurs, rather than being viewed as a voluntary quit, the courts treat it as an involuntary termination, i.e., a “constructive discharge.”
The decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Groening v. Glen Lake Community Schools, 884 F.3d 626 (6th Cir. 2018), reinforces the general principle that the bar for showing constructive discharge is high: simply experiencing workplace indignities will not be enough to transform a resignation into a constructive discharge.
In Groening, a school superintendent was criticized by her employer for her liberal use of leave, including absences taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). After the employer subsequently launched an investigation of her leave usage, the plaintiff resigned, claiming that the criticism and investigation of her FMLA leave left her no choice but to resign. The appeals court disagreed, however, finding that mere criticisms and an investigation, even when focused on FMLA-protected leave, were not enough to make her resignation a constructive discharge.
As always, please note that this guide is designed to be informational only, and is not intended to convey legal advice. Specific issues that arise regarding employee resignations should be referred to legal counsel.
Members of the Center for Workplace Compliance (CWC) can read more here.