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Constructive discharge and employment discrimination

Employees may face various forms of illegal discrimination, with firing ranking among the harshest actions employers may take. However, as more employers become aware of the illegality and potential legal consequences of discriminatory actions, they may not take such an overt step.

Just because your employer did not fire you does not mean they did nothing illegal, however. Both Florida and federal laws recognize the concept of constructive discrimination, which describes a situation where the employer created such an impossibly hostile environment that you had no choice but to quit. In such a case, even though technically you made the choice to leave, the employee drove you to this choice.

When workplace hostility becomes illegal

Proving constructive discharge can present difficulties. A job can be tough or a boss can be difficult without rising to the level of a hostile environment. While it would be wonderful if all employers maintained a pleasant working environment at all times, the law does not force them to do so.

Florida and federal laws

Under Florida law, workplace harassment may cross the threshold of illegality when working conditions become so bad that a reasonable person in the employee's position would feel forced to quit. Similarly, federal law draws the line where "enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment OR The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive."

The reasonable person standard

The "reasonable person" baseline in both statutes tends to exclude cases where an employee is unusually sensitive and takes offense to conduct most people would not consider extreme. But what if an employer knows of an employee's particular sensitivity and deliberately proceeds to target it? Typically, courts would need additional facts, such as specific actions, to conclude whether this would be unlawful.

Get advice before you quit

Workplace harassment often arises as a result of unlawful discrimination. Quitting your job in the absence of constructive discharge might eliminate or limit the damages you could recover in a discrimination or other related lawsuit. If you believe you may be working in a hostile environment, consult an attorney before taking action.

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