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Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination

Created by 

FindLaw’s team

 of legal writers and editors | Last updated December 05, 2018

Constructive dismissal, also known as constructive discharge or constructive termination, is a modified claim of wrongful termination. Wrongful constructive dismissal occurs when, instead of firing the employee, the employer wrongfully makes working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to resign. As in wrongful termination, the employer must violate the employment contract or public policy by targeting the employee. Continue below to learn more about constructive dismissal.

See FindLaw’s Wrongful Termination section to learn more.

What Is Constructive Dismissal?

Most states recognize the legal concept of constructive dismissal, in which an employee quits because the working conditions have become so intolerable that he or she can no longer work for the employer. Even though the employee voluntarily quit, the employee had no reasonable alternative because of the intolerable working conditions.

The employee’s resignation is overlooked for legal purposes because the employment relationship was in effect terminated involuntarily by the employer’s conduct. In this situation, the resignation is treated as a firing. If the employer’s actions constitute unlawful conduct or a breach of an express or implied employment contract, the employee may have a claim for wrongful constructive dismissal.

Elements of a Constructive Dismissal Claim

An employee can’t simply quit and claim that he or she was constructively dismissed. For example, California requires an employee to prove that:

1. His or her working environment was so unusually adverse that a reasonable employee in his or her position would have felt compelled to resign, and

2. The employer either intended to force such resignation or had actual knowledge of the intolerable working conditions.

An employee claiming to have been constructively dismissed must show that the conditions giving rise to the resignation were sufficiently extraordinary and egregious to overcome the normal motivation of a competent and reasonable employee to remain on the job.

Generally, a continuing pattern of extraordinary and egregious conduct is required before an employee’s resignation will be considered a constructive dismissal. A single negative evaluation or other isolated acts don’t typically establish intolerable or unusually adverse employment conditions. However, in severe situations, a single act, such as a crime of violence by the employer against an employee or the employer’s requirement that an employee commit a crime, may be enough to constitute unusually adverse conditions.

In addressing whether an employer’s conduct amounts to sufficiently intolerable or egregious working conditions to permit constructive dismissal, courts focus on factors including:

1. Whether the employee was requested or required to participate in illegal activity;

2. Whether the employer duly acknowledged or investigated the employee’s complaints;

3. The nature of the employer’s illegal conduct; and

4. The passage of time between the allegedly illegal conduct and the employee’s resignation.

Reasonable Person Standard

It’s not enough for the employee to subjectively believe his or her working conditions are intolerable. Courts instead look at whether a reasonable person would find the conditions to be unusually egregious and adverse. If a reasonable person working in the employee’s position wouldn’t find the conditions intolerable, the employee’s resignation will be treated as a voluntary resignation by the employee, even if the employee believes that he or she can’t work under the conditions imposed by the employer.

Employer Knowledge

In general, in order to prove that the employer forced the employee to resign, an employee must show that the employer either intended to create or maintain intolerable working conditions or that the employer had knowledge of such conditions. If an employer should have known about the intolerable conditions, but didn’t, a constructive dismissal generally wouldn’t occur.

Employees generally must notify management or someone in a position of authority of the conditions so the employer has an opportunity to correct the situation. If the employee doesn’t inform the employer, and the employer hasn’t independently learned of the intolerable working conditions, the employee generally won’t be able to prove a constructive dismissal claim.

Considerations

Employees are typically presumed to be employed in an at-will employment relationship. This means that the employee can be terminated at any time and with or without cause. Generally, the law doesn’t require that employers treat their employees fairly or provide a stress-free environment. Instead, employers are required not to act in a discriminatory manner or in an otherwise unlawful manner. Absent improper or unlawful conduct or breach of an employment contract on the part of an employer, courts generally won’t allow employees to bring constructive dismissal claims.

Learn More About Constructive Dismissal Claims: Talk to a Lawyer Today

If you need help in understanding constructive dismissal law, or legal assistance in suing your employer for constructive dismissal, the help of a legal professional can clarify your rights and ensure your actions are effective. Contact a wrongful termination lawyer to discuss your situation and learn how they can help.

Avoiding Wrongful Employee Terminations

Overview

To be wrongfully terminated is to be fired for an illegal reason, which may involve violation of federal antidiscrimination laws or breach of contract. The legal standards governing termination differ substantially depending on whether private-sector and nonunion employees or public-sector and unionized employees are being considered. As the company HR leader, you are accountable to the organization to ensure that all employee terminations are initiated and completed while maintaining strict adherence to current employment laws and EEOC guidelines.

Instructions

Write a 6–7 page paper in which you:

Address your understanding of the term constructive discharge—what is it? Then, identify factors courts might focus on to determine if constructive discharge exists. How might the organization avoid claims of constructive discharge? Use: Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination. (Provided)

Discuss the differences between pure employment at will and employment at will with exceptions. Do you believe employment at will is fair? If not, what is an alternative?

Briefly describe what the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) is. What do you see as benefits of this act to employees? Employers?

Identify and discuss a minimum of four actions organizations may want to consider as they seek to handle employee terminations legally.

Use at least four American quality academic resources in this assignment. Note: Wikipedia and other websites do not qualify as academic resources.

The specific course learning outcome associated with this assignment is:

Evaluate the legality of an employee termination.

Address your understanding of the term constructive discharge—what is it? Then, identify factors courts might focus on to determine if constructive discharge exists. How might the organization avoid claims of constructive discharge?–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 18 (11.25%) points

Competent 20.4 (12.75%) points

Exemplary 24 (15.00%) points

Discuss the differences between pure employment at will and employment at will with exceptions. Do you believe employment at will is fair? If not, what is an alternative?–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 24 (15.00%) points

Competent 27.2 (17.00%) points

Exemplary 32 (20.00%) points

Briefly describe what the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) is. What do you see as benefits of this act to employees? Employers?–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 24 (15.00%) points

Competent 27.2 (17.00%) points

Exemplary 32 (20.00%) points

Identify and discuss a minimum of three actions organizations may want to consider as they seek to handle employee terminations legally.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 24 (15.00%) points

Competent 27.2 (17.00%) points

Exemplary 32 (20.00%) points

Use at least four academic references.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 6 (3.75%) points

Competent 6.8 (4.25%) points

Exemplary 8 (5.00%) points

Writing mechanics, grammar, and formatting.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 6 (3.75%) points

Competent 6.8 (4.25%) points

Exemplary 8 (5.00%) points

Appropriate use of in-text citations and a reference section.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 6 (3.75%) points

Competent 6.8 (4.25%) points

Exemplary 8 (5.00%) points

Information literacy and integration of sources.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 6 (3.75%) points

Competent 6.8 (4.25%) points

Exemplary 8 (5.00%) points

Clarity and coherence of writing.–

Levels of Achievement:

Unacceptable 0 (0.00%) points

Needs Improvement 6 (3.75%) points

Competent 6.8 (4.25%) points

Exemplary 8 (5.00%) points

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