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Can I Sue My Employer If I Quit My Job?

Thumbnail image for quit.jpgNew Jersey employment law provides some of the strongest protections in the nation for New Jersey employees. A typical employment lawsuit involves an employee who has been fired in violation of some type of legal right. Employers, however, are now more sophisticated and do not always terminate their employees. Instead, employers now try to “force” their employees to quit by creating a hostile work environment.

Thus, a common question I am often asked is: “Can I still sue my employer who violated my rights if I quit?’ The answer will typically depend on a case-by-case analysis and the particular reasons behind the resignation. However, courts have now recognized a principal known as “constructive discharge.” Constructive discharge occurs when an employer make an employee’s job so miserable that the employee is forced to quit. Constructive discharge cases are often very difficult because the burden is on the employee to show that the work conditions were so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to quit, and the employer created them a hostile work environment for a prohibited reason, such as discrimination or retaliation against a “whistle blower.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court has explained that to sustain a claim for constructive discharge an employee must prove that the conduct complained of was so egregious that any reasonable person would be forced to resign rather than continue to endure it. For example, a typical case of constructive discharge can be sexual harassment by a supervisor. Another common example is when an employee makes a reasonable complaint that the employee believes another employee, typically one in a supervisor position, is violating the law. As a result, the employee that made the complaint begins to get unfavorable work assignments, is given poor reviews, and is otherwise subjected to a hostile work environment. If the employee quits as a result of the hostile work environment that employee could potentially sustain a claim for constructive discharge.

Employees who quit should not get discouraged by the fact that constructive discharge cases are difficult. In fact, New Jersey courts are quick to point out that decisions in constructive discharge cases are heavily fact-driven. It is therefore recommended to seek guidance from an experienced New Jersey employment attorney.

However, it is important to understand that not every constructive discharge claim can be a legally cognizable action. Instead, only employees who are constructively discharged for illegal reasons have legal remedies. For example, an employee who is forced out because of the employee’s race, national origin, age, or religion could have a legally cognizable claim. On the other hand, if the employer simply makes the job difficult for no prohibited reasons and, as a result, the employee quits, there will be no cognizable legal theory of recovery.

Constructive discharge cases are often difficult to prove because the facts and the resolution of the case often comes down to the specific choices a reasonable person would have felt they had. Nevertheless, an employee who cannot meet the constructive discharge standard can often times maintain a case for a hostile work environment. Therefore, if you believe you have been forced out of your job then you should immediately seek advice from an experienced New Jersey employment attorney.

McLaughlin & Nardi’s attorneys regularly represent both employers and employees in federal and state court, in mediation and in arbitration, litigating employment disputes. To learn more about what we can do to help, please e-mail us or call (973) 890-0004.