Many employers are familiar with the concept of constructive wrongful termination, a legal theory invoked by plaintiffs who claim that they were forced to quit as a result of intolerable and illegal working conditions. But what about constructive voluntary quitting? Constructive voluntary quitting is a doctrine codified under California Code of Regulations as well as earlier cases which establish that an employee is deemed to have quit “by engaging in a voluntary act or course of conduct which leaves the employer no reasonable alternative but to discharge the employee and which the employee knew or reasonably should have known would result in his or her unemployment.” Cal. Code Regs., Tit. 22, § 1256-1(f).
The doctrine of constructive voluntary quitting or leaving was recently addressed by the California Court of Appeal in the case of Stephanie Kelley vs. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Stephanie Kelley (“Kelley”) went on a stress leave from her job as a marketing director for Merle Norman Cosmetics, Inc. (”Merle Norman”) one month after she filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging that the company was retaliating against her for reporting ongoing sexual harassment. Following seven months of unpaid leave, Kelley, through her counsel, made several requests of Merle Norman regarding her return to work as well as the possible settlement of Kelley’s sexual harassment claim....
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