Being forced to resign can be a serious blow to one’s career and self-esteem, but it doesn’t have to mean forfeiting your rights. In some instances, being forced to resign is illegal, and employees should be aware that employment discrimination laws can protect them when the circumstances signal unfairness.

A resignation is a voluntary act which results in formally giving up a position of employment. However a forced resignation is often involuntary and comes as a result of some form of pressure or intimidation from supervisors, managers or even fellow members of an organizational board. A forced resignation has certain legal implications that a voluntary resignation does not have. For instance, a forced resignation based on discrimination or retaliation could trigger employment discrimination law.

Provisions within each of the employment discrimination laws are meant to protect employees from discrimination, retaliation and harassment, all of which may be involved when an employee is forced to resign. Hiring a capable attorney can help sort out the circumstances of your particular situation and to understand which laws apply best. Here are a few key facts to know when you’ve been forced to resign.

1. Discrimination is unlawful.

Being forced to resign could mean a violation of federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect workers from differential treatment and unfair outcomes based on membership in protected characteristics, namely race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion or disability.

Title VII applies to all aspects of the employment process including hiring, firing, termination, salary, benefits and promotions. If an employer forces an employee to resign based on membership in any of the protected categories, it could be a violation of federal law as a form of discriminatory termination.

Currently Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. However, state laws sometimes protect employees who work in smaller businesses and companies. For instance, California’s employment discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), covers companies with 5 or more employees.

2. Harassment is prohibited.

Many of the same laws that protect employees from discriminatory acts at work also protect workers from harassment in the workplace. Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all protect workers from being harassed based on membership in protected groups while at work and require that employers take precautionary action when harassment is reported.

Under some circumstances, workers are forced to resign due what’s known as a hostile work environment. This occurs when the harassment in a particular workplace is so severe or pervasive that it significantly alters the conditions of employment that an employer knows about or should have known about. This may include receiving threats from a co-worker or supervisor or other types of egregious behavior which make it difficult for an employee to continue working, forcing the employee to resign.

In such instances, the forced resignation could be considered a constructive discharge. By definition, a constructive discharge occurs when conditions at work for an employee become so intolerable that a similarly situated person would quit. Most courts consider a constructive discharge one of the many tangible employment actions covered under Title VII and other federal employment discrimination laws.

3. Retaliation is a violation of employment discrimination law.

Sometimes a worker may feel forced to resign as a result of retaliation and intimidation from an employer. This, too, is prohibited under both federal and state laws protecting workers from discrimination in the workplace.

Title VII, the ADEA and the ADA all contain provisions prohibiting retaliation when an employee has filed a discrimination charge, has filed a claim of discrimination in court or is or participating or planning to participate in discrimination proceedings in court. When a forced resignation comes as a result of retaliation for any of these scenarios, an employer could be held liable for its action in a court of law or through EEOC proceedings.

4. Wrongful termination could be an actionable claim.

Another cause of action that may be available to an employee who has been forced to resign is wrongful termination. If the employee is being forced against his will to resign, the resignation is involuntary and could amount to a termination.

In addition to the discrimination noted above, wrongful termination covers a range of workplace offenses. This includes public policy violations like terminating an employee for taking time off to vote or for whistleblowing. Also, the forced resignation could be a violation of the terms of an employment contract between employer and employee.

5. Your Legal Rights Can be Affected

Employees should keep in mind that being forced to resign can affect important legal rights, and signing a letter of resignation may cause a forfeit of unemployment benefits. Signing a resignation means ending the employer-employee relationship. Employers often go with this option to avoid the hassles and complications of a formal termination.

This works to the disadvantage of an employee because a resignation is typically seen as a voluntary act which could call an employee’s right to severance pay and unemployment benefits into question.

This is why it is always a good idea to work with an employment discrimination lawyer who has a broad range of experience throughout the resignation process. A competent attorney can give employees the strategic advice they need in order to handle a forced resignation situation without negatively affecting important legal rights.

Tips for Handling a Forced Resignation.

A good bit of advice for handling a forced resignation is to ask as many questions as possible before signing anything. You’ll want to understand fully what you are signing and could inquire about severance pay and unemployment benefits issues before the resignation is complete. Also, it is wise to let your employer know that you would like time for an attorney review of all resignation documents before signing.

Additionally, it is important to report any instances of discrimination to supervisors, managers or HR personnel before resigning. Doing so may prove beneficial if litigation becomes a viable option later.

If You’ve Been Forced to Resign…

If you’ve been forced to resign, your resignation could be illegal and your employer could be held liable for violation of employment discrimination laws. The attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are standing by to assist you with getting the justice you deserve. Know your rights, and get help as soon as possible.