The Missouri Court of Appeals recently decided a case as to whether a reasonable person in an employee’s situation would find his or her working conditions intolerable. The decision focuses on a lesser-known employment action known as “constructive discharge.”
Under Missouri law, a person is constructively discharged when an employer deliberately renders an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee is compelled to quit his job. However, there are several steps of legal scrutiny involved in this type of situation. First, a claim of constructive discharge requires aggravating factors or a continuous pattern of discriminatory treatment. Second, a single instance is insufficient. Reasonableness requires an employee not to assume the worst, and not to jump to conclusions too quickly. Third, no constructive discharge occurs where an employee quits without giving the employer a reasonable chance to resolve the problem. Ultimately, a court considers whether (1) a reasonable person in the employee’s situation would find the working conditions intolerable, and (2) the employer intended to force the employee to quit, or the employer could reasonably foresee that its actions would cause the employee to quit.
The Missouri Court of Appeals noted that the plaintiff showed that twice when he declined to violate his medical restriction by risking an over-the-road trucking run, he was punished by either being sent home or told to stay home without pay. He also received four disciplinary write-ups immediately following his refusal to violate his medical restriction. The Court also considered that the plaintiff did not jump to conclusions too quickly. To the contrary, he gave his employer a chance every day for two weeks to resolve the problem, even longer considering that he twice declined to violate his medical restriction in the month before being denied work completely.
In conclusion, the Court found that a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s situation would find these working conditions intolerable.
This court decision is a helpful guide to the legal parameters of conduct in today’s workplace.