What is Forced Resignation and is it Illegal?

A forced resignation is when there is pressure on you to leave your job. This can have an effect on your future career as well as your self-esteem. In some circumstances, forced resignation is illegal, and some employment discrimination laws can protect employees if they have been experienced forced resignation.

What is Forced Resignation?

An employer may engage in wrongful termination in a variety of ways. Examples include (but aren’t limited to) firing someone:

  • For discriminatory reasons.
  • As an act of retaliation.
  • As a way to avoid making reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability.

Forced resignation may be subtler. It occurs when an employer intentionally strives to alter the conditions of a worker’s job or work environment in such a way that said employee feels the need to quit.

The following are a few potential examples of forced resignation:

  • An employer begins consistently assigning unpleasant duties and/or shifts to a particular employee. Said employee, unhappy with these changes to their work situation, opts to resign.
  • An employer promotes a hostile work environment or allows one to persist without addressing it. For example, an employer may engage in forced resignation if they know an employee’s coworkers are harassing them, but don’t take any action to correct the matter. An employer might intentionally refrain from addressing the issue because they want an employee to resign.
  • An employer demotes an employee, excessively disciplines them, and/or refuses to promote them, despite not having a valid reason. The goal of an employer may be to make a worker feel so discouraged in their current role that they seek employment elsewhere.

Depending on the circumstances, forced resignation may be illegal. This could be the case if forced discrimination occurs after discrimination. 

What Are Forced Resignation Laws? 

If an employee feels the necessity to resign from a job because the work environment has become hostile, this may be illegal. A hostile environment may include making the worker feel uncomfortable. This could be due to discrimination such as being pregnant, too old, membership of a particular ethnic group, color, religion, disability status or gender. This may be illegal, and the worker may be covered when forced to resign under one of the following different discrimination laws: 

Is Forced Resignation Legal? 

No, it is not legal if you are forced to resign and it is a violation of employment laws. If you can prove you were forced to resign due to a protected characteristic you have such as your skin color, and your employer was not treating you in the same way as other employees such as offering over time or promotion, then you should be able to file a claim for compensation from your employer for being forced to resign. 

Forced resignation may occur when an employer intentionally alters the conditions of a worker’s work environment or job so that the employee feels the need to resign. 

An employer may engage in forced resignation if they know an employee’s coworkers are harassing them, but don’t take any action to correct the matter. If an employer demotes an employee or refuses to promote without a valid reason, and the employee resigns, this could be a case of illegal forced resignation. 

I Have Been Forced To Resign - What Are My Rights?

Most waged employees are employed under at-will employment arrangements. This means that typically an employer can terminate an employee’s employment at any time for almost any reason. The same right applies to the employee who doesn’t need to give a reason to quit.

Employers cannot fire an employee legally, however, simply because they have complained of discrimination or have exposed wrongdoing at their workplace. This is regarded as retaliation. Even if the forced resignation happened yourself because of the pressure that has been imposed on you by your employer, this is still regarded as retaliation.

You have the right to file a complaint of retaliation with either your state anti-discrimination body, such as a state government Human Rights agency, or the federal equivalent, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC only investigates complaints by employees who were employed in a workplace where 15 or more employees were employed, so if you worked in a smaller workplace, you may find it easier to file a complaint with the relevant state agency.

Both state and federal anti-discrimination agencies have time limits within complaints should be filed. Once a complaint has been received by either agency, an investigation will take place. The agency may be able to resolve the complaint or if a breach of legislation is exposed, the employer may face fines, or stiffer penalties.

When Is Forced Resignation Illegal?     


Forced resignation could mean the employer has committed a violation of federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination of employees. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers from being treated unfairly like being forced to resign based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion or disability.

If an employer forces an employee to resign based on being a member of any of the protected categories, it could be a violation of federal law and be considered in a similar way to wrongful termination. However, this law only applies where there are 15 or more employees in one workplace. Some states have their own laws, like California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).


The False Claims Act contains an anti-retaliation provision that makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who participate in whistleblowing against their employers. This may include forced resignation.

Any employee who successfully proves a False Claims Act retaliation case because he or she was forced to resign may be entitled to be reinstated, and receive up to twice the amount of their back pay, interest on that back pay, special damages, costs, and attorney’s fees.

As well as the False Claims Act, there are several other federal and state laws that are specific to certain industries. These include provisions to protect whistleblowers from experiencing forced resignation due to whistleblowing.

Family and Medical Leave

In most cases, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for his or her own medical treatment or that of a close family member. Not every employee is covered, but those who are employed by an employer that has 50 or more regular employees who work within 75 miles of each other are covered.

Also, employees must have worked for at least one year for a total of at least 1,250 work hours in the year before they are eligible for coverage for medical or family leave. You cannot be forced to resign for taking family or medical leave if it falls within the timeframe stipulated in the law.

Is Forced Resignation Due to Employer Retaliation Illegal?

It is not uncommon for an employer to put so much pressure on an employee who has made a valid complaint of discrimination or has exposed wrongdoing by the employer that the employee has been forced to resign. This sort of retaliation is illegal and is in breach of both state and federal anti-discrimination and labor laws.

If you have experienced retaliation by your employer which has caused you to experience forced resignation, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. There is a process for this and you must follow the process carefully if you are to have a chance of obtaining compensation.

Note that if you quit your job anyway simply because you don’t like your job or you don’t like something that your employer has done that doesn’t necessarily directly involve you, then this cannot be considered forced resignation because of retaliation.

To have a valid claim, you must be able to prove that your employer has put pressure on you to resign because of something that you have exposed or complained about.

To give an example, let’s say that you have witnessed what you believe to be corrupt practices occurring within your workplace. If you inform the state Labor department or another agency about what you consider illegal practices going on, then this is an example of whistleblowing.

If your employer retaliates against you by firing you or putting pressure on you to resign, then this could be considered retaliation and is a breach of state and federal law.

What Can I Do if I Was Forced to Resign?

Because most employees work at will, it means they can be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as it is not illegal. You have to prove that your employer’s reason for forcing you to resign was illegal.

If you experienced forced resignation because your manager bullied and insulted you because of your disability, your age or your religion you may have a strong legal claim for discrimination which was the reason why your employer forced you to resign.

How Can I Prove I Was Forced to Resign?

Depending on the reason you were forced to resign you will need to provide evidence to prove it. One of the most useful forms of evidence is reports written by co-workers on instances at work that showed you were being discriminated against by the behavior of certain employees or your employer and nothing had been done to change the environment. Instead of solving the problem, your employer asked you to resign.

Can I Get Help With My Forced Resignation Case?

Have a professional employment lawyer on your side so you are not fighting your forced resignation case on your own. To get in touch with a lawyer who takes cases in your area, fill out the Free Case Evaluation on this page today.

Forced Resignation Laws By State

Each state has different employment laws related to forced resignation. If you have been forced to resign and you work in one of the states below, click the state to find out more information on what to do:

Additional Resources