How Not to Quit

Advice, Employment Agreements, Retaliation
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Everyone has his or her limit. Maybe you’ve reached yours. Don’t like being treated like a cog in a machine? Is your boss a bully who raises himself up by pulling others down? Maybe you found a better opportunity elsewhere or need to move. Whatever the reason, you need to quit your job. What’s the best way to quit?

As emotionally satisfying as it may be to sing Johnny Paycheck’s classic “Take This Job and Shove It” to your boss, have a marching band accompany you when you give your notice, or announce to the office through e-mailed photos why you’re quitting (cute story, but it turned out to be a hoax), there are some practical issues you need to deal with.

1. Did you sign a contract with your employer?

signIf so, ideally, you had an attorney look at it, explain it, and advise you about how it affects your ability to get another job before you signed it. If not, dig it out of your files and get that done now. There may be provisions affecting who you can work for, what you can do, and where you can do it.

  • Non-compete provisions: This contract language may prevent you from working for a competitor or client or from performing similar work for another organization within a specified geographic area for a set period of time.
  • Non-disclosure provisions: If you’re planning on using trade secrets you’ve learned at your current employer (e.g., marketing plans, product designs, customer lists) to leverage yourself into a better job elsewhere, this provision could result in you (and your future employer) being sued. There may also be a common law (law based on judicial decisions) basis for such a lawsuit.

We can advise you whether it appears that such a contract is enforceable. Laws vary in each jurisdiction, but the contract may be too broad or may not be enforceable for some technical or public policy reason.

2. Are you saying or writing things that could harm your employer?

defFrom a legal standpoint, it’s always best to take the high road, grit your teeth, and say nothing at all if you don’t have anything good to say. Dumping on a current or former employer also won’t help you find your next job. In addition, depending on who you are, what you say, and who you share it with, you may open yourself up to a defamation or libel lawsuit by your employer.

Defamation is any intentional false communication that harms a business’ reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a business is held; or creates disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a business. Libel involves the publication of defamatory statements (such as in a social media posting). This type of lawsuit may be based on nondisparagement language in a contract or common law.

If your ex-employer is defaming or libeling you (perhaps giving false, negative information about your performance or you personally) resulting in harm (inability to get another job), you may want to consider filing such a lawsuit against the company.

3. Are you quitting because you feel you’ve been the victim of some kind of illegal acts by your employer?

Do you think that you’re being illegally discriminated against (due to sex, color, race, religion, disability, etc.), retaliated against (because you complained of discrimination, asked for an accommodation for a disability, or reported illegal activity), or harassed (sexually or because of your color, race, nationality, etc.) and want to quit your job? If so, contact an attorney before quitting.

You may already have a legal cause of action against your employer. If you quit, it would be considered a constructive discharge, and any lost income could be damages. However, the law discourages claims of constructive discharge.

  • You would have the burden of showing a reasonable person in your situation would quit because the terms and conditions of your employment are extremely bad.
  • Are you repeatedly being disciplined for no reason? Subjected to harassment? Demoted or repeatedly denied raises or promotions?
  • Are you suffering physically as a result? Can’t sleep or eat? Are you depressed or anxious?
  • A constructive discharge claim would be supported by documentation from a health-care professional that your job is harming your physical and/or psychological health, and continuing to expose yourself to the stress at work will further injure you.
  • Did you report the problems that make you want to quit to your supervisor or human resources? If not, your company may claim that it didn’t have an opportunity to fix the situation and therefore that you didn’t have a valid reason to quit.

4. If you don’t have another job lined up, could you collect unemployment benefits?

unempIt depends on the circumstances.

  • In Maryland, benefits may be awarded depending on the degree of the seriousness of the condition that led you to quit. A substantial change in the job, reduced work hours, or discrimination may be considered good cause to quit. General dissatisfaction with the job would not.
  • In Virginia, you will need to speak with a hearing officer to determine whether you quit your job for good reason.
  • In the District of Columbia, you would also need to show good cause to quit or compelling personal reasons for your decision to leave your job.

If you quit and apply for benefits, assume your former employer will contest your application. If possible, document the reasons why you left (with e-mails, memos, or notes of meetings) and prepare a list of possible witnesses.

Summing It Up

If you plan on quitting and think that these or other legal issues have come up, or if you have already quit and feel either you or your former employer may start some type of legal action, contact the Spiggle Law Firm so we can talk about your situation, the legal issues involved, and how you should best handle them.