The Claimant was employed by the Respondent, a legal advice centre, from 22 February 2016 to 18 March 2020 as an advice session supervisor. On 3 February 2020 the Claimant received a letter from his manager in relation to his poor time keeping. He confronted his line manager about this letter, said he was unhappy about it, and resigned. He was advised by his manager to calm down and that his resignation would not be accepted. On 5 February 2020 the Claimant became angry again about something else and resigned again, giving a month’s notice. Again, his line manager would not accept his resignation.
On the morning of 19 February 2020, the Claimant became angry again on being asked by his manager about his holiday dates, swore at her and used words of resignation. The Respondent’s case was that the words used were “these are f***ing bulls**t … that’s it, from today a month’s notice” and that this verbal resignation had been accepted. The Claimant was asked to confirm this in writing.
But the Claimant did not confirm his resignation, instead he emailed his manager stating “I wish to retract my resignation as it was a “heat of the moment” resignation resulting from unresolved grievances I had”. The retraction was not accepted, and the Respondent treated his employment as being terminated with one month’s notice.
The Claimant then brought claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. This claim was unsuccessful as the Tribunal decided that the Claimant had resigned. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has now disagreed with the Tribunal’s application of the law and has remitted it back to the Tribunal.
The EAT clarified the law regarding “heat of the moment” resignations in their judgment. One important test is that if the intention to resign was clear to the reasonable bystander the resignation will stand. In this test it is not relevant to consider what the resigning person believed.
Generally speaking, if a person has resigned the only way it can be retracted is if the employer agrees to this. There is an exception to this when it comes to ‘heat of the moment’ resignations. In these circumstances employers need to allow the employee a cooling off period where the employee can confirm that they did not really intend to resign. The EAT found that the Tribunal was mistaken in focusing on the special circumstances as opposed to the objective assessment of whether the words had been meant.
For employers, this case helps to set out the key principles on resignation. Whilst employers need to consider if the employee is in their right mind when resigning, ultimately it is not the resigner’s intention which matters. The most relevant factor is what the employer understands the employee to mean.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.