“I Quit” — When is a Resignation not a Resignation?

Year Published: 2020

During a heated discussion, an employee told me he’d had enough and stormed out. The next day he confirmed that he didn’t mean to resign and wants to withdraw the resignation. Do we have to agree or can we just accept his resignation?

The answer to this question will depend entirely on the circumstances. Notice cannot be unilaterally withdrawn and needs agreement from both parties. However, the tribunals have dictated that good practice means providing an employee the opportunity to withdraw any resignation given in the heat of the moment.

There can be “special circumstances” whereby an otherwise clear resignation should not be relied upon by an employer. Examples of “special circumstances” include: a decision taken in the heat of the moment, an employee being forced into a decision, an immature employee etc.

What to Look Out for When an Employee Hands in Their Resignation

When in receipt of what you believe to be a resignation, you should consider the following points:

  1. Was the wording of the resignation ambiguous in any way?’
  2. If not, were there any special circumstances that would mean the employee did not genuinely intend to resign, for example, was it given in the heat of the moment?

If you answer yes to either or both of the above questions, then further clarification would be required.

Employees should act promptly when looking to withdraw the request. The longer the period between the notice and the request to withdraw it, the more reasonable a refusal to the retraction will be found to be.

In terms of the above query, it would appear that the resignation was ambiguous as he did not specifically say he was resigning from his employment. Also, he had resigned during a heated discussion and so once he had time to cool off, he clearly changed his mind and requested to withdraw the resignation straight away. On that basis, it would be reasonable to allow the retraction.

It is therefore important to note that if an employee indicates that they wish to quit, but it is not made clear, this should be clarified with them in the first instance. If the resignation is given in the heat of the moment, then they should be given time to calm down and reflect on whether they actually wish to resign.

For more advice on what to do when an employee resigns, or other Employment-related matters, contact our Associate, Katie Hodson, on 0161 475 7670 or email [email protected].

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