Handling ‘heat of the moment’ resignations
In the recent case of Mr R Omar v Epping Forest District Citizens Advice, the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) considered whether an employment tribunal (ET) was correct in finding that a resignation made in the ‘heat of the moment’ should stand.
Facts of the case
In this case, Mr Omar resigned from his employment during a heated argument with his manager. Shortly afterwards, during a further conversation with his line manager and the CEO, he expressed a desire to continue his employment with the company. However, his line manager decided that she no longer wished to work with him and asked him to confirm his resignation in writing. Mr Omar initially agreed to do. However, he did not do so, but instead attempted to formally retract his resignation in writing.
The central issue revolved around whether Mr Omar’s resignation should stand and, if not, whether he was entitled to claim unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal. The EAT held that the case should be remitted to a fresh tribunal for a full re-hearing and outlined several essential principles in law that the tribunal should consider.
No ‘special circumstances exception’
There is no special rule for resignations made in ‘the heat of the moment’. The same rules apply in all cases involving notice of dismissal or resignation.
A notice of resignation or dismissal once given cannot unilaterally be retracted. The giver of the notice cannot change their mind unless the other party agrees.
Words of dismissal or resignation must be objectively construed based on normal rules of contractual interpretation. The subjective uncommunicated intention of the speaker is not relevant, but the recipient’s understanding matters, but is not determinative.
Reasonable bystander’s perspective
What matters is whether a reasonable bystander in the recipient’s position would conclude that the speaker intended immediate resignation or dismissal and was in a rational state of mind.
The assessment of intent must occur when the words are uttered, and usually, if the words objectively constitute resignation or dismissal, there is no doubt about the intent.
Evidence of post-statements
Evidence of events that occurred after the words were spoken can be admissible if it objectively sheds light on whether the resignation or dismissal was genuinely intended at the time.
Distinguishing between a situation where resignation or dismissal was not genuinely intended and one where there was a change of mind can be subtle. It is a factual determination for the tribunal.
The same rules apply to written resignations as to verbal ones.
Summary and advice
Although this case has not been concluded, it offers valuable lessons for employers to consider.
Be cautious when accepting resignations made in ‘the heat of the moment’. Take time to assess the situation thoroughly.
Encourage open communication between managers and employees to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings before they escalate to the point of resignation.
Ensure that all resignations and changes in employment status are documented in writing, with both parties’ agreement when possible.
Seek legal advice
In cases of uncertainty or dispute, seek legal advice to navigate the complex legalities surrounding resignations and dismissals.
In conclusion, it is important for employers to handle ‘heat of the moment’ resignations with care, understand the legal principles involved, and to seek professional guidance when needed to ensure fair and lawful employment practices.
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