It’s not unusual for there to be disagreements and high emotions in the workplace. Usually, these can be managed, however things can sometimes escalate quickly. In stressful situations, an employee may indicate they want to resign in the heat of the moment. When tempers have calmed, however, what happens if the employee comes to you later and says that they have changed their mind and want to retract their resignation?
On the face of it, this may appear to be a clear-cut situation – they’ve resigned, you quickly accept it, and all move on. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.
This exact situation came up in a recent case in the Employment Tribunal - Omar v Epping Forest District Citizens Advice. While the Tribunal originally found that the employee’s resignation should stand, the Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed saying that it was clear that the resignation was a heat of the moment decision and that the employer ought to have known that it was not a seriously intended resignation. This means that the employee is able to bring an unfair dismissal claim against their employer.
This judgment may appear unfair, but it highlights what the law requires so here is some practical guidance on what to do if you should find yourself in this situation.
- When an employee resigns, don’t rely on it unless their intention is absolutely clear and unequivocal. It’s worth getting resignations in writing so that the intention is clear and there is evidence of the employee’s intention, should you find yourself in a dispute later. You should also promptly acknowledge the resignation in writing.
- It is not enough for an employee to express an intention to resign at some point in the future. For example, ‘I’m going to think about resigning’ is not a valid resignation and so you could not rely on this. You would need to clarify their intentions – and if they are not resigning and there are issues which have led to these comments arising, these should be dealt with under your grievance procedure.
- When considering whether or not a resignation has been validly given, look at the words that were used and consider the intention behind them. It’s important to take all the circumstances into account and reflect on whether a reasonable bystander would consider it to be a resignation or not. Where an employee resigns when upset or angry and seeks to change their mind when they have calmed down, a Tribunal would likely expect an employer to give their employee the benefit of the doubt and a chance to change their mind.
- If the employee has validly resigned, they cannot then retract this unilaterally. Both parties must agree. There is therefore no automatic right to your job back. If this situation arises, you should think about all relevant factors and make a balanced decision on whether to allow the retraction.
- Evidence of what happens after the resignation is relevant. If the employee tris to retract it within hours, it’s likely this was a heat of the moment resignation. However, if they take weeks to change their mind, it’s less likely to be the case.
If this situation should happen in your business and you would like some advice, our Employment team would be pleased to help you.