When is a resignation not a resignation?

Disgruntled employees often fantasise about handing in a brilliantly acerbic resignation letter listing their manager’s faults in excruciating detail.

04 Oct 2018
"Glasses sitting on laptop.

Sadly, few such letters see the light of day. But it’s even more unusual for an employee’s resignation letter to leave an Employment Tribunal scratching its head as to whether the employee actually resigned at all, as it did in the recent case of East Kent Hospitals Trust v Levy.

Ms Levy, who worked in the Trust’s records department, had had a difficult relationship with her manager and a high level of absence. She applied for a vacancy in the radiology department and was offered it, subject to various internal checks. She gave a letter to her manager that stated "Please accept one month's notice from the above date" and her manager confirmed that her resignation had been accepted. She was then told that the radiology job offer had been withdrawn and sought to withdraw her resignation, but her manager refused to let her do so. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal and the Tribunal (and subsequently the Employment Appeal Tribunal) held that she had been dismissed rather than having resigned.

The key issue was that, in the context, the employee’s letter was not ‘clear and unambiguous’, which a valid notice of termination of employment must be. An objective observer would have interpreted her letter as being notice of resignation from her current role (in anticipation of her new role in radiology) rather than resigning from the Trust altogether.

When a problematic employee resigns, an employer may be tempted to seize the opportunity to exit them from the business in an (apparently) low risk fashion. This case neatly illustrates the potential downsides of this approach and why employers must take some care when dealing with resignations. Once an employee has given valid notice of resignation, an employer is under no obligation to let the employee withdraw that notice. However, the employer must satisfy itself that the notice of resignation is valid, as it might otherwise face a claim for unfair dismissal as the employer did in this case.


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