A. Constructive Discharge Constructive discharge is a legal term that occurs when an employer creates unbearable working conditions for an employee, so s/he has no other option but to resign. Typical conditions are cut in wages, refusal of holiday, changes in duty, verbal abuse, lack of support and demotion. Although constructive discharge is clearly defined as forcing an employee to resign by making the work environment so difficult, unpleasant, or intolerable that a reasonable person in the aggrieved person’s position would feel compelled to resign, proving it is fairly complicated. (Equal Employment Oportinity Commition, 2013)
The employee has to be able to provide evidence that the new conditions are the cause for his resignation, they are unbearable for normal employee and that the employer deliberately made the change to force the employee to quit. Another important factor is the time. The time frame between the change and the resignation should be fairly close to support the case. For example if the change occurred at the beginning of the month, but the employee did not leave work until the following month, the judge will doubt that the working conditions were so difficult and unpleasant.
The scenario at the toy company is relevant to constructive discharge because the cause of resignation was due to a change in work schedule, the employee left shortly after the change, and the new conditions were intolerable for the former employee requiring him/her to work on religious holy day.
B. Title VII The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered to be the most liberal law ever enacted because promotes equal rights and prohibits any type of discrimination. Title VII is a section of the Civil Rights Act that applies to employment decisions and mandates that they cannot be based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin, & Cardy, 2010) Discrimination is present when the employee is treated unfavorably because of their different appearance, believes or background.
For example religious discrimination involves treating an employee or a job candidate unfair because of his/her religious believes. “Religion” is very broadly defined in the law to include all religious observances, practices and beliefs. Not only traditional and familiar churches of Christianity, Judaism or Islam can be considered religion, but also a small spiritual or ritual group of people with new and uncommon beliefs.
Title VII protects all religious beliefs. The scenario at the toy company is relevant to Title VII because rises a case of discrimination based on religion. The former employee was a believing person whose religious needs were not supported by the employer. S/he felt that the enforcement of the new policy on shift work was intentional and against his/her faith. According to the former employee, company’s management was careless and failed to provide reasonable accommodation for his/her religious needs as the law mandates. S/he was required to work on the weekends and “holy” days. As a result s/he felt discriminated and the unresolved conflict led to resignation.
C. Company Response According to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) law constructive discharge is present when the employer is forcing an employee to resign by making the work environment so intolerable that a reasonable person would not be able to stay. As a legal term “reasonable person” is a hypothetical person in society who exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct. (Farlex, Inc., 2013)
The former employee of the toy company was a religious person who quit his work after the new policy on shift work was enforced. S/he considered it to be discriminatory because the policy required employees to work on a religious holy day. The change of the policy affected all employees, however they did not resign. The “holy” day for the former employee was not a “holy” day for all employees because they represented different religious and had different believes. Therefore the former employee does not fit the definition of “reasonable person” and the company should plead “not guilty.” In addition, there is no evidence that the change of the policy was led by malice employer’s intentions.
My first recommendation for the company’s response to the allegation for constructive discharge is to provide a copy of the document which states that the change of the policy applies to all production employees in the company with no exception. Second, to submit a document from HR proving that there were no other resignations received after the change of the shift work and that all other employees tolerated the change. Third, is to present the fact that the former employee did not complained to his supervisor or requested reasonable accommodation for the conflicting work schedule such as change or swap of shift.
C1. Legal References The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) law defines constructive discharge using the reasonable person test to determine if the resignation was forced by employer or voluntary. The law describes the term as created by employer work environment “so difficult, unpleasant, or intolerable that a reasonable person in the aggrieved person’s position would feel compelled to resign.” The legal term “reasonable person” helps with weighing whether the conduct would be offensive to others and not just to the complaining party. In the toy factory case the former employee does not meet the test for reasonable person, because his complaint is based on personal believes and religion not share by other employees.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits intentional discrimination or “practices that have the effect of against any person based on race, national origin, sexual preference, religion or disability.” (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d., 2013) The former production employee from the toy company was not treated differently than any other employee because of his religion.
The work days were changed for all production employees and they all had to adjust to the new work schedule. As a result all employees had to work on Saturday or Sunday on rotating shift with no regard to religious or personal holy days if it falls to be one of their four working days. Since the new policy was to apply to all production employees and the working condition were the same, no religious discrimination was present in this case.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination and providing guidance for preventing it. According to the commission, employee seeking religious accommodation must notify the employer and make him aware of the need because of a conflict between religion and work. If the employer is not aware of the employee’s religious observance he cannot provide reasonable accommodation and he cannot be charged of discrimination. For the toy company was not informed about the work-religion conflict and was not given opportunity to find solution, the allegations should be dropped as unfounded.
A legal case Tepper v. Potter concerning religious accommodation and discrimination was reviewed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and ruled against the employee. This case is similar to the toy company case where the former employee quit after being required to work on religious holy day. On the appeal, the court noted that in order to meet the initial burden of proof on an accommodation claim, Tepper was required to show that he: (1) held a sincere religious belief that conflicted with an employment requirement; (2) informed the employer about the conflict; and (3) was discharged or disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. (Plunkett Cooney Inc., 2007)
After reviewing each requirement the appellate court concluded that Tepper could did not establish the third requirement being discharged or disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. Similar to Tepper’s case is the case of the former employee at the toy company who doesn’t meet the third retirement because the resignation was voluntary as well as the second by failing to inform the employer about the conflict.
C2. Legal Recommendations To avoid violations and legal issues around Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it is important to have a good understanding and knowledge of the law. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate against job candidate or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Accordingly, employers cannot base their hiring and firing decisions on these criteria, nor they can administer policies that segregate the employees based on them. If they do not comply with the law, discriminated person is allowed to seek damages against the employer. To protect the company from legal charges, the executive management should enforce a fair hiring process and equal treatment.