Resignations, like terminations, can be emotional for both employees and employers. An employee may resign abruptly, perhaps because of an argument or a high conflict situation. In such cases, the courts will allow the employee a window of time to cool off and take back their resignation. If an employer hastily relies on the resignation and treats the employment relationship as over, the employer could be in for an unwelcome and potentially expensive surprise in the form of a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. The employee could allege that they did not actually quit and that the employer has therefore terminated them. In such a case, the employee would be entitled to severance.
In cases where an employee resigns during a heated exchange or emotional outburst, employers should seek to confirm the employee’s intention to resign. We recommend that, in these situations, employers write to the employee confirming their stated resignation and advising that unless the employee advises they do not, in fact, intend to resign and return to work within a specified deadline (which we recommend be a few business days), they will be considered as having resigned. This is particularly important where the resignation was only oral and not in writing since it provides written corroboration of the oral resignation. However, confirmation of resignation should still be sought if a written resignation was sent in haste or in the context of a dispute or acrimony.
On the other hand, the employer can rely on a letter or email of resignation that does not arise in a context of high emotions or conflict or other unusual circumstances. Where an employee purports to resign orally, the employer should ask the employee to confirm in writing with details of the resignation date and, if no such communication is received, write the employee to confirm what was said orally.
A related misconception is that an employer must “accept” a resignation before it is effective. This misunderstands the nature of a resignation. A resignation is a unilateral act of the employee and not subject to the acceptance of the employer. An employer cannot force an employee to return to work by “refusing to accept” a resignation. Similarly, an employee cannot argue their resignation was ineffective because the employer did not communicate its “acceptance” of the resignation.
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