How “Quiet Firing” Might Violate New Jersey Employment Laws

The term “quiet quitting” gained traction on social media in 2022, and debates over whether or not it is a real phenomenon have continued throughout 2023. It generally involves employees who are unwilling to do more than what their job description specifically requires. A related concept, “quiet firing,” has also emerged. It involves an employer that, rather than directly firing an employee, takes adverse actions that drive the employee to the point of resigning. While “quiet firing” might be a new term, it is not a new concept in New Jersey employment law. Constructive discharge, in which an employer makes working conditions so intolerable that an employee feels they have no choice but to quit, may violate laws against wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

What Is “Quiet Firing”?

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) defines “quiet firing” as the practice of “intentionally creat[ing] a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave voluntarily.” This arguably saves the employer money on severance and unemployment benefits.

This is hardly new to the workplace. Individual managers and supervisors have long used these kinds of tactics to drive out employees for various reasons. The HBR, however, suggests that some employers are now being more systematic about it. It notes studies from the past few years that show growing numbers of employees who leave their jobs for reasons like “feeling disrespected.”

What Do New Jersey Employment Laws Say About Quiet Firing?

Quiet firing is not always a violation of New Jersey employment laws. To be legally actionable, the employer must have engaged in unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination and harassment based on numerous factors like race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, and military status. Several federal statutes provide similar protections. State and federal laws also address issues like family and medical leave.

Employers may not retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under these laws. This includes using accrued medical leave or reporting alleged harassment.

Constructive discharge occurs when violations of the above laws cause an employee to quit their job. An employee who quits after their employer fails to take reasonable steps to address sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment, for example, may have a claim for constructive discharge.

Proving constructive discharge can be difficult. An employee has to establish not only that their employer violated the law, but also that they would not have left their job had their employer not violated the law.

How to Recognize Possible Quiet Firing

Quiet firing can be difficult to recognize. Possible warning signs may include:
– Reduction in work assignments or responsibilities;
– Increase in workload to unsustainable levels;
– Unfavorable work assignments;
– New work assignments that are not appropriate for an employee’s job;
– Lack of feedback from or engagement with supervisors or managers;
– Sudden shift in the tone of feedback; or
– Loss of work-related perks.

If you believe you have experienced constructive dismissal, you need an experienced advocate to help you assert your legal rights. The employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group represent workers in New Jersey and New York in claims for unlawful employment practices under state and federal law. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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