How to handle impromptu resignations

Posted in : HR Updates on 5 January 2016
Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services
Issues covered:

Has an employee in your workplace ever said: “That’s it, I’ve had enough and I’m off!”? It may be tempting to accept these ‘heat of the moment’ resignations at face value, however, ‘going off in a huff’ is not the same as resigning and an employee must make it clear to the employer that he or she intends to resign. These types of resignations can present traps for the unwary employer.

The potential traps

If the words or actions of resignation are unambiguous, then the employer is under no legal obligation to do other than accept the resignation. If the employee, subsequently, wishes to change his or her mind (for example, because a new job offer has fallen through), it is up to the employer to decide whether or not to take that employee back.

Problems arise where there are “special circumstances” where words uttered or shouted during a heated exchange or where the employee is under emotional stress might not be exactly what he or she intended to say. The danger for the employer is that if the case came to a tribunal, the tribunal might find that the situation was one of “special circumstances” and the employer did not really mean to resign and therefore the employee had been dismissed unfairly by the employer.

How the employer should respond

In these circumstances the employer should not immediately assume that the employee has resigned. The employee should be given a “cooling off” period of at least a couple of days and then contacted to find out his or her true intentions i.e. whether they really meant to resign. This will enable the employer to seek clarification from the employee and satisfy the legal requirement to make a reasonable investigation of the circumstances of the resignation. During this investigation additional information relating to the situation may also come to light — for example, that the employee may have been bullied or harassed by a colleague or his or her manager, which would need following up.

Of course, if the employee did actually mean to resign, the employee should confirm this in writing. This will be valuable evidence for the employer in the event of any subsequent legal action by the employee.

Top tips for dealing with “heat of the moment” resignations

  • Do not immediately assume the employee has resigned.
  • Give the employee a “cooling off” period.
  • Take action to find out (by phone or letter) whether he or she really meant to resign.
  • Investigate further additional information that comes to light about the situation.
  • If you are unable to contact the employee, wait for a reasonable time before starting termination procedures.
This article is correct at 05/01/2016

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services

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