ost employment contracts in Oregon are deemed to be “at will” relationships. This term means that either party can terminate the relationship at any time for any – or no – reason. This does not mean that at will employees are completely at the mercy of their employers. An employer cannot subject an employee to unlawful discrimination based on, for example, the employee’s race or gender.
According to regulations promulgated by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, an at-will employee can sue his or her employer for discrimination based upon working conditions that forced the employee to quit the job. Understanding the application of these regulations can help many employees save themselves from intolerable and illegal working conditions.
The basic rule
According to the regulations, a constructive discharge is akin to being forced to quit.
To prevail in a lawsuit based upon constructive discharge, the employee must prove the following facts:
- The employer intentionally created or allowed to exist discriminatory working conditions related to the employee’s protected class status.
- The working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have resigned if faced with similar circumstances
- The employer intended to force the employee’s resignation or knew or should have known that the working conditions would cause the individual to resign.
- The employee resigned because of the working conditions.
The four elements spelled out in the state regulations mean that a successful plaintiff must prove the same facts that would be necessary to prevail in a direct case of racial discrimination. The principal effect of this regulation is to provide protection for at will employees who would otherwise be left without a remedy.
Anyone working under difficult conditions may wish to consult an experienced employment law attorney for an analysis of the facts and advice on the likelihood of succeeding in a lawsuit based on constructive discharge.