Employee Resignations: Not as Straightforward as They Seem

During a heated exchange at a contentious meeting, one of your employees tells you she’s quitting and won’t be coming back, then angrily exits the boardroom. Clearly, she’s resigned, right? The answer is…it depends.

Clear and Unequivocal Intention

employee-resignations1In British Columbia, for a resignation to be effective, an employee must show a “clear” intention to resign (by either words or actions) and his resignation must be “unequivocal.” Hard to believe that the statement “I quit” is anything but clear and unequivocal – taken on its own, it might be, but the courts in BC have generally looked at all of the circumstances surrounding such a statement to determine whether an employee actually resigned.

Given this, how can you tell whether your employee’s resignation is “for real” in the eyes of the law? What’s an employer to do? While we recommend that employers consider these questions with the assistance of their employment lawyer, there are a number of ways to help ensure you satisfy your legal obligations in these situations.

Employer Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Do not assume the employee has quit – ask. The courts have repeatedly found that an employer should take any necessary steps to clarify an employee’s true intent, especially where the resignation may have been the product of the employee’s momentary anger. Employers are well advised to wait until “tempers have cooled” before attempting to confirm the employee’s intentions.
  2. Do not act hastily; rather, consider your response carefully. If the employee’s comments are in any way ambiguous, take care not to make any statements that could be interpreted as a dismissal of the employee.
  3. Do not ignore the employee or take a “hear nothing, see nothing, speak nothing response” if she attempts to clarify her intentions and retract her resignation. If there is evidence that the employee did not intend to quit, but you take steps to end the employment relationship in reliance on her initial statements about resigning, you are exposing yourself to a significant risk of liability for wrongful dismissal.

Bottom Line

employee-resignations2Ultimately, as in many areas of the law, cases involving disputes about whether an employee quit or was fired are highly fact-specific. As a result, before taking steps to end the employment relationship following an apparent resignation, it is wise to seek the advice of a lawyer experienced in the area of employment law, as the ins and outs of employment termination are the “bread and butter” of an employment lawyer’s practice.

Have questions about how to deal with a possible employee resignation? Email us!

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