Ordinarily, if an employee resigns, the general rule is that he/she cannot successfully bring an unfair dismissal claim. However, there are exceptions to this rule and one of those exceptions is if the employee resigns in the “heat of the moment”, such as during or shortly after an argument with management or colleagues. In such circumstances, a reasonable period of time (a day or two depending on the circumstances) should be allowed to lapse following the resignation, if appropriate, to ensure that the resignation was fully intended.
It is important that an employer deals with ambiguous resignations carefully. Failure to do so may lead to an employee operating under the misguided impression that his or her employment is still intact despite a hastily made resignation. This risk was highlighted in a recent Irish Employment Appeals Tribunal case where an employee tendered her resignation due to alleged bullying in the workplace. She believed that her employment had not been terminated following her resignation and emailed her employer indicating that she wished to formally withdraw her resignation. However, her employer responded that her resignation had already been accepted. She brought an unfair dismissal claim against the company and was awarded €22,500 as compensation for being unfairly dismissed.
A recent UK case also considered whether a resignation was given in the “heat of the moment”. In this case the employer responded to an employee's letter of resignation suggesting a “cooling off” period of five days for the employee to reconsider the decision to resign. The UK Tribunal considered that this correspondence from the employer eliminated any possibility that the resignation occurred in the “heat of the moment”.
Tips for Employers When Dealing with 'Heat of the Moment' Resignations:
- Take legal advice if you are unsure about the circumstances surrounding an employee's resignation.
- Ask the employee to reconsider his or her resignation, if appropriate.
- Offer the employee a “cooling-off” period in order to confirm his or her decision.
- Ask for resignations to be put in writing and signed by the employee.
- Document all the circumstances surrounding a purported resignation.