Often times, when potential clients call our office for a consultation on workplace harassment, one of their first questions is, can I quit? And if I do, do I still have a case? Our advice to clients is if you’re being harassed or discriminated against in your workplace, the first step should not be to quit your job. There are several things to try first before making that decision. Quitting should be a last resort as it can jeopardize your legal rights should you decide to move forward with an EEOC complaint or a civil lawsuit.
If you are facing harassing behavior at work, contact your company’s Human Resources department or the equivalent and make a formal complaint regarding the harassment. Make sure your complaint is in writing and that you receive or save a copy of it. In the meeting, ask what steps the department will take to investigate the harassment and what actions they will take if harassment is found. If you have an employee handbook, read through it to have an understanding of your company’s workplace harassment policy.
Begin a paper trail of the harassment – note the dates and times, who was present, what occurred, and any action or inaction from supervisors or managers. Save or screenshot all harassing emails or texts . Note whether HR was made aware of the incident and if any action was taken. If you end up quitting your job, it is important to show you gave your employer notice and an opportunity to stop the offending behavior. Otherwise, employers can use their lack of knowledge as a defense to your claim.
Quitting due to a hostile work environment requires showing a greater severity or pervasiveness of harassment than if you are fired. If you absolutely must quit, to pursue a claim, the level of harassment will need to meet that standard.
The Supreme Court has found that a plaintiff alleging sexual harassment must show that the abusive working environment became so intolerable that quitting or resignation was a fitting response. In Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, a female police officer was harassed daily and accused of a theft she did not commit. A supervisor also lied to her about the test results of a mandatory job-related test, arrested her for the alleged theft, and only dismissed the charges when she resigned from the department. The Supreme Court agreed that all of these facts and circumstances left her with no option but to quit.
Additionally, where an employee quits in response to an adverse action to their employment status or situation, constructive discharge (or quitting) can also be appropriate. This can include:
Pennsylvania Courts have made it clear that merely difficult or unpleasant working conditions are not enough for a constructive discharge. Working conditions need to be “so intolerable that a reasonable employee has no option left but to resign.” Judges also want to see that the employee sufficiently explores alternative solutions before quitting. It will be very difficult to show that you had no option but to quit if you cannot show you did not explore other options first.
If you feel that the harassment you are experiencing is so overwhelming that you have no choice but to leave, give us a call. You may have a discrimination or harassment claim, but quitting before exploring your other options could make winning your case harder and more complicated. Let us help you decide the next step. Our attorneys are experienced in employment law and ready to help.
Kaminsky Law is a small business-oriented litigation Law firm licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with cost-effective approach to lawsuits, settlements, and dispute resolution.