As a general rule of thumb, an employee who has resigned from their job cannot rescind the resignation simply because they change their mind. However, there are times when an employer needs to take a more cautious approach and where that rule of thumb is put to the test.
What should you be looking out for?
We are often asked for advice in cases where an employee resigns and one of the following special circumstances could apply: the individual in question is younger or ‘immature’, the decision to resign was made in the ‘heat of the moment’ or where an employee was in some way jostled, or coerced, into making the decision by their employer. In these circumstances, an employment tribunal could determine the employee’s notice of resignation was ineffective. Within this article, we will focus specifically on heat of the moment resignations and how best to deal with them.
How should notice be given?
There are no statutory requirements as to the mechanics of giving notice, however under common law the notice should be delivered by the employee in a ‘clear and unambiguous’ way. The individual’s employment contract will (hopefully) contain a clause on notice requirements. Employers will generally require written notice to be provided, which is also a useful safeguard against disputes arising from heat of the moment resignations, which are often verbal.
Resignations – what should you do if you’re worried?
So, what practical steps should you take when an employee resigns in the heat of the moment? First of all, allow the employee some time to ‘cool off’ following their decision to resign. To provide a ballpark figure, a day or two is likely to be a sufficient resignation cooling off period. Once a reasonable amount of time has elapsed, you can make contact with the individual to query their reasons for resigning (if not clear) and whether they really intended to resign.
It might help you to think about this practically:
Employee A raises a formal grievance against employee B, alleging sexual harassment. Due to the seriousness of the allegation, you decide you have no choice but to suspend employee B whilst a further investigation is conducted. You request a meeting with employee B, during which the allegations and the decision to suspend are put to them. Employee B erupts into a fit of anger and storms out of the meeting shouting “I’m not listening to this crap anymore, you can stick your job – I quit”.
What should you do?
This is a classic ‘heat of the moment’ resignation. For whatever reason, employee B immediately resigned upon hearing the allegations of sexual harassment. As employee B’s resignation came ‘off the cuff’ and in a difficult meeting, it’s likely to be reasonable to question whether or not that resignation is ‘safe’. You should leave it a day and then give employee B a quick call to query whether they have reflected on their decision to resign. Having had the chance to cool down, employee B may confirm they acted rashly in reaction to a high pressured situation and wishes to withdraw the resignation. If, on the other hand, they confirm the resignation was intended and they wish to stand by it, you should ask them to conform it in writing, so there can be no further uncertainty.
Employee C is speaking with a supplier on the phone. The supplier has a very jovial attitude and during the discussion uses language which employee C finds offensive and upsetting. Employee C does not speak with you about what happened, but refuses to speak with the supplier again. Feeling bad about the soured atmosphere, the supplier sends a box of chocolates to employee C to apologise for causing them any upset. Employee C rejects the chocolates and sends them back to the supplier, along with a sternly worded note, which the supplier now brings to your attention. When you ask to speak with employee C about this, they refuse to discuss it saying, “I don’t want to get into this, you’re siding with the supplier over me and I’m handing my resignation in”.
What should you do?
Again, although employee C’s resignation was clear and unambiguous, it was made in the heat of the moment. After perhaps a day, it would be sensible to contact employee C and discuss their reaction. Based on the facts, their reaction does appear somewhat abrupt given you had just wanted to discuss the events in the lead up to employee C’s fall out with the supplier but you should approach the situation carefully and gently, to ascertain whether there are any underlying issues that may have contributed to the reaction. If, despite speaking with employee C, they are intent on terminating their employment, you should insist on formal notice being given as per their employment contract.
What’s the takeaway?
Never take this type of resignation on face value; ensure you allow the individual time to reflect on their decision, then follow-up to confirm whether they had really intended to resign. It might sometimes be tempting just to accept the notice but if there are circumstances that put you on notice that the resignation wasn’t really intended and if you ignore them, that might ultimately be to your cost.