America mostly lives by the rule of “at-will” employment, where you can quit anytime you want and for any reason, and employers can fire you in the same way. Of course, there are many exceptions to at-will employment, especially in cases when it is illegal to fire someone for the wrong reasons.

So, courts also recognize an idea called “constructive termination,” sometimes known as constructive discharge and a few other names. It is when an employer forces an employee to quit instead of taking the legal risk of firing them outright.

Indiana courts recognize the trick

Supervisors, managers and business owners generally know they cannot openly fire people over issues like their religion or because the employee obeyed the law.

However, if someone truly no longer wants to work for the employer, the employer can hardly stop them from quitting, right? Management all-too-often uses a strategy of creating an inhospitable work environment for a person they consider “undesirable,” a workplace so intolerable that they essentially have no choice but to quit.

After a person quits in such a situation, the real reason they no longer have their job is that the employer “got around” laws against wrongfully firing people. The employer created an illusion to avoid punishment for a reality that they also created. The employee quitting was really the employer firing in disguise.

Constructive termination not easy to demonstrate in court

Indiana courts have recognized the idea of constructive discharge several times. But successful lawsuits under this principle are uncommon, partly because the question is not how the employee feels. The employee must prove several facts that are hard to prove.

The work environment must be so extremely intolerable that any other reasonable person would find it close to impossible to stay.

Also, the reason the workplace was so intolerable must be that the employer intended to make it that way for the specific purpose of making the employee quit for a protected characteristic, such as being a certain race or complaining to authorities about illegal activity at the workplace.

The former employee might be sure of these but showing them in court can still be challenging. It is usually much easier to get a satisfying outcome from a terrible work situation before the employee quits instead of after.

In either case, if these situations seem familiar, whether or not you have already quit, strongly consider contacting a qualified attorney with experience in employment law to help you understand your legal options.