When is a resignation not a resignation?

May 12, 2015

The case of Geraldine Christie and Glasswater Lodge Retirement Home Limited and Others in the Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland has held that there is a duty on employers to clarify an employee’s resignation.

In this case Ms Christie was employed as the manager of a retirement home. In the period leading up to the claimant’s resignation the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) had expressed concerns about the running of the retirement home. A meeting was held between the claimant and the respondent company on 25 February 2014 at which the claimant stated that she was resigning with one month’s notice. The next day she delivered a letter to the respondent which stated, inter alia, that she was exercising “my right” to withdraw the resignation. In that letter she also raised various grievances with her employer.

The respondent did not write back or speak to the claimant in relation to the retraction of her resignation but it did make arrangements for a grievance meeting to be held. At the grievance meeting on 31 March 2014 the claimant was told that she was still an employee even though this meeting was held outside of the one month’s notice period which would have expired on 25 March 2014. However, neither party specifically referred to the reported retraction of the resignation delivered on 26 February 2014.

In a letter dated 4 April 2014 a director of the respondent company stated that he was writing to confirm that he had rejected the retraction of the claimant’s resignation and that her employment had ended on completion of the one month notice period.

The claimant alleged unfair dismissal. The respondent argued that the claimant had effectively resigned on 25 February 2014 and that she had properly been paid one month’s notice.

The Tribunal dismissed the respondent’s arguments and agreed with the claimant. The Tribunal concluded that the claimant did indeed resign on 25 February 2014. They held that it was a clear resignation and was not made as a result of unreasonable pressure. However, the Tribunal also held that the claimant had retracted her resignation on 26 February 2014. The mistake the employer made was not making any written or other response to the purported retraction of the resignation until 4 April 2014. This came after grievance meetings in which the claimant was told she was still an employee, even though the grievance meeting was held after the one month notice period would have expired. The Tribunal held that this was not consistent with the consideration of a grievance of a former employee whose notice period had expired. It was only consistent with an employee who had resigned but whose retraction of resignation had been accepted. The Tribunal held that it was not open to the respondents to subsequently change their minds and to issue the letter of the 4 April 2014 to decide not to accept the retraction.

As a result the letter sent to the claimant on 4 April 2014 was a dismissal and it failed to comply withstatutory procedural requirements and thus was automatically unfair for the purposes of the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

The lesson for employers is that ignoring an employee’s retraction letter could be deemed to be acceptance of the retraction even if that is not what the employer intended. Therefore should an employer receive such a retraction from an employee they should take immediate steps to determine the status of the employee’s employment position and should confirm their acceptance or otherwise of the retraction in writing within a reasonable time.

For further details on our Employment practice please see our website www.cfrlaw.co.uk

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