20 February 2024

‘I Quit!’: how to deal with heat-of-the-moment resignations

Nicola Evans Senior Associate
Women at work arguing over desk

Not all workplaces are harmonious all of the time. On occasion, heated discussions and frank conversations can take place. Sometimes, even debates and arguments can lead to a heat-of-the-moment resignation, the employee throwing down their keys and storming out of the building shouting “I quit!”.

But what if the employee returns the next day having changed their mind?

What should you do?

In the recent case of Omar v Epping Forest District Citizens Advice, the claimant did just this, resigning after having had an altercation with his line manager. He later sought to retract his resignation, arguing that it had been tendered in the heat of the moment. However, the respondent contended that his resignation should stand and his employment came to an end. The claimant claimed unfair dismissal.

The key preliminary issue was whether the claimant’s purported verbal ‘resignation’ was effective. The EAT reviewed the authorities in this area and gave the following guidance on ‘heat of the moment’ resignations (which is also relevant to ‘heat of the moment’ dismissals):

  1. A notice of resignation, once effectively given, cannot be unilaterally retracted.

  2. You should look at words of resignation objectively in all the circumstances of the case.

  3. The circumstances that may be considered, include anything that would have affected the way in which the language used would have been understood by a reasonable bystander.

  4. The subjective understanding of the recipient is relevant but not determinative.

  5. It is not enough if the party expresses an intention to resign in future. The reasonable bystander, in the position of the recipient, must understand from the words used that the speaker is actually resigning.

  6. The reasonable bystander, in the position of the recipient, must feel that the resignation was ‘seriously meant’, ‘really intended’ or ‘conscious and rational’.

  7. You should assess whether the words appear to have been ‘really intended’ at the point in time that they were said.

  8. Evidence about what happened afterwards is relevant, but the longer the time that elapses, the more likely that any evidence will be evidence of a subsequent impermissible change of mind, rather than of the intention at the time.

  9. For the tribunal in each case, it is a question of fact on which side of the line a case falls.

What does this mean for you?

This case provides helpful guidance on how employment tribunals should approach disputes over resignations tendered in the “heat of the moment”.

It can be tempting for employers to seize on a verbal resignation tendered in the context of a dispute, either because it is expedient to do so or because doing so would benefit the employer in some way. However, this case is a reminder that doing so is not without risk, and the circumstances will be closely scrutinised.

Nicola Evans, Wilkin Chapman LLP
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