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How Constructive Dismissal is Different from Wrongful Termination?

January 7, 2024 Legal Team

Both constructive dismissal and wrongful termination involve the end of employment but differ significantly in terms of the circumstances, legal implications, and employee rights. 

Constructive Dismissal Defined

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee decides to resign from their position due to a fundamental breach of the employment contract by the employer. Unlike traditional termination, where the employer takes explicit action to end the employment relationship, constructive dismissal arises from a situation where the employer’s actions or omissions make the working conditions intolerable for the employee.

How Constructive Dismissal is Different from Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful Termination Defined

Wrongful termination, on the other hand, occurs when an employer terminates an employee’s contract in violation of employment laws, contractual obligations, or public policy. Unlike constructive dismissal, wrongful termination involves the employer taking explicit action to end the employment relationship without proper justification.

Differences Between Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination 

Here are the key differences between constructive dismissal and wrongful termination: 

Initiation of the Employment Separation

  • Constructive Dismissal: The employee initiates the separation by resigning from their position. This decision results from the employee’s perception that the employer’s actions or changes in the workplace have fundamentally breached the employment contract, making continued employment intolerable.
  • Wrongful Termination: Wrongful termination involves the employer taking explicit action to end the employment relationship. This may include firing an employee without proper justification, in violation of employment laws, contractual obligations, or public policy.

Breach of Contract

  • Constructive Dismissal: For constructive dismissal to be valid, there must be a material breach of the employment contract. This breach could be a substantial change in working conditions, a demotion, a big reduction in pay, or other actions that fundamentally alter the nature of the employment. 
  • Wrongful Termination: Wrongful termination focuses on the employer unlawfully ending the employment relationship, often through actions that breach employment contracts or violate employment laws. This breach could include terminating an employee for discriminatory reasons, without proper notice, or in violation of other contractual obligations.

Unilateral vs. Explicit Action

  • Constructive Dismissal: This usually happens when an employer makes significant changes to job duties, work environment, or pay without asking for approval. These actions force the employee to resign to escape an unsustainable work environment.
  • Wrongful Termination: Happens due to the employer’s explicit decision to terminate the employee, violating contractual or legal obligations. 

Subjective vs. Objective Perspective

  • Constructive Dismissal: Constructive dismissal is subjective, as it hinges on the employee’s perception that the changes imposed by the employer were intolerable. Therefore, a reasonable person in the same situation would have to also find the working conditions unacceptable. 
  • Wrongful Termination: Wrongful termination can involve subjective elements, such as discriminatory motives, but often requires more objective evidence of illegal termination, such as violation of employment laws.

Employees claiming constructive dismissal or wrongful termination can seek legal recourse from an Orange County wrongful termination attorney, including reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and other remedies, depending on the nature of the violation.

Proving Constructive Dismissal 

Proving constructive dismissal can be challenging, as it requires demonstrating that the employer’s actions or changes in the workplace were so severe that they breached the employment contract, making continued employment intolerable. Here are key steps and considerations:

  • Document the Changes: Maintaining detailed records of the changes in the workplace that led to the resignation is crucial. This includes alterations in job duties, working conditions, pay, or any other significant aspects.
  • Employment Contract: Carefully review the employment contract to identify any clauses related to job duties, working conditions, or other terms of employment. This will serve as a basis for establishing the employer’s breach.
  • Gather Evidence: Show that the changes were imposed by the employer without proper consultation or your consent. Gather any records or communication with your employer regarding the changes, personal statements, statements from witnesses on the changes, and your emotional or professional distress, etc. 
  • Attempts to Resolve: You must be able to show there were attempts to address the issues with your employer before resigning. This may involve expressing concerns, negotiating changes, or seeking resolution through internal channels. Records of this type of communication can strengthen your case.
  • Timely Resignation: Proof that you resigned promptly after the breach occurred can establish a clear connection between your employer’s actions and your decision to resign.
  • Mitigating Damages: Take reasonable steps to mitigate damages. This may involve seeking alternative employment to demonstrate that you are actively trying to minimize the financial impact of the constructive dismissal.

Proving Wrongful Termination

Here are general steps to consider when attempting to prove wrongful termination: 

  • Gather Evidence: Collect evidence of any wrongful actions by the employer leading to termination. This may include emails, memos, witness statements, performance reviews, records of positive contributions, or any documentation that contradicts the reasons given for termination. 
  • Review Employment Contract: Examine the employment contract to identify any provisions related to termination, notice periods, or grounds for termination. Establish whether the termination violated contractual obligations.
  • Assess the Circumstances: Common grounds for wrongful termination in California include discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics, retaliation for exercising legal rights, breach of contract, or violation of public policy such as firing an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activities.  

Filing a Claim

If you believe you have experienced constructive dismissal or wrongful termination, contacting a trusted Orange County Employment Law Attorney is essential to navigate the complexities of these legal claims. Attorneys specializing in employment law can offer invaluable assistance by evaluating the merits of your case, providing legal advice tailored to your situation, and guiding you through the legal process. They can help gather evidence, assess the strength of your claims, and ensure compliance with the specific laws governing constructive dismissal or wrongful termination.

Attorneys are adept at negotiating with employers, filing complaints with relevant government agencies(CRD or EEOC), and, if necessary, representing you in legal proceedings. Their knowledge and experience will ensure that your rights are protected, increasing the likelihood of a favorable resolution and fair compensation for any harm suffered due to the improper termination.