Workplace Bullying & Constructive Discharge

Exclamation PointMost people think that the unemployment office is something like a court of law – impartial.

If they’re in Nevada, they’d be wrong.

I have a friend who was bullied out of a job that she really loved by a new supervisor who was hired from out of state. This supervisor systematically increased my friend’s workload to the point of impossibility, and then exceeded those bounds by actually requring the performance of  impossible tasks. She also incessantly barked at my friend as if my friend was a deaf Chihuahua instead of an educated professional.

My friend complained – verbally – to a human resources officer but nothing changed. She verbally complained to members of the senior management team. Nothing changed.

Finally something changed,  my friend’s health. When my friend began experiencing heart palpitations and severe anxiety, she felt she had no choice but to submit her resignation.

I encouraged my friend to file an unemployment compensation claim because she was essentially forced to resign. The theory of constructive discharge holds that an employee may be considered fired when the employer makes working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would have decided there was no option other than to quit.

We were surprised and encouraged when my friend’s former  employer did not contest her claim for unemployment insurance. A reasonable and impartial jurist would interpret this as a tacit admission that her claim was valid.  But not the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

The unemployment officer denied my friend’s request for unemployment benefits, and that decision was upheld on  appeal.

The initial reason for the denial by the unemployment office appears to be that my friend didn’t complain in writing– she complained verbally but she didn’t file a written complaint.

Of course, there was absolutely no evidence that a written complaint was or is a prerequisite for providing notice to an employer or obtaining unemployment benefits  but … hey, pesky details.

The unemployment office “board of review” didn’t bother to give a reason for upholding the earlier denial. Here’s what it said: “After examining the record, the Board declines further review.”

So the bottom line is the state of Nevada denied unemployment benefits to a bullied worker  even though the worker’s former employer did not object to the worker receiving unemployment benefits.

Why would the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and  Rehabilitation aggressively defend the “rights” of an employer that chose not to assert its  rights in the matter?

Why would the Nevada Department of  Employment, Training and Rehabilitation take it upon itself to deny benefits to a worker whom almost any reasonable observer would agree was bullied out of her job?

What do you have to do to convince the unemployment office that you are a victim of constructive termination – have a  heart attack and die on the job?

It’s a sad outcome for my friend and I personally  regret  that I encouraged her to assert her rights only to be disappointed by a supposedly neutral arbiter that now appears to be anything but neutral.  I thought she’d get a measure of justice after being denied it at her former workplace. I was wrong.

On a  macro level, it is depressing when government officials who are in the business of employment, training and rehabilittion show so little understanding of and  regard for the problem of workplace bullying. It shows how far we have to go to hold employers accountable for bullying in the workplace.