A recent employment tribunal decision shows how important it is to be really clear about an employee’s intentions before assuming they have resigned.
In the case of Cope v Razzle Dazzle Costumes Limited, Mrs Cope threatened to go on sick leave and to resign if required to continue working with a particular colleague who had accused her of bullying. The next day Mrs Cope, who suffered from anxiety and was visibly upset, went to the office to speak to the business owner, who was not there. She then left her keys on the counter and walked out saying “I’m done” with a hand gesture to indicate she was finished. She subsequently sent a text to the business owner saying “sorry to bother you at home. I couldn’t wait earlier to speak to you I tried but I couldn’t stay there any longer. My nerves are shot. Never in my whole life have I ever been made to feel like this..”. The business owner assumed Mrs Cope had resigned. Mrs Cope then submitted a fit note, subsequently apologising for leaving work and asking to return. This was refused on the basis she was considered to have resigned.
The Tribunal had to determine whether or not Mrs Cope had resigned. Given the context including Mrs Cope’s evident anxiety and upset, the Tribunal determined she had not resigned, which meant the employer was liable for unfair and wrongful dismissal.
This case is a salutary reminder of the principles around resignation:
- Whilst there are no statutory requirements for notice to be effective, and notice can usually be given orally, notice must always be clear and unambiguous.
- Even unambiguous words of resignation spoken in the heat of the moment may not necessarily amount to a resignation; an employer should allow a reasonable cooling off period
Our top tips for situations like this are:
- Ensure that any contractual requirements for notice (e.g. for it to be given in writing) have been complied with.
- If you are in any doubt about an employee’s intentions, ask them to confirm them before treating them as having resigned.
- Be particularly careful if an employee resigns in the heat of the moment or under particular pressure. Where appropriate, give them a reasonable opportunity to change their mind.