You can take it back. The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that employees can take back their intention to retire. We have spoken about whether an employee can take back their intention to retire in a previous blog post regarding the Ontario Superior Court decision in English v. Manulife Financial Corporation. This decision was recently overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

2018 Superior Court Decision

English, the 66-year-old employee in this case, provided Manulife, her employer, with a resignation letter after she became aware of their intention to change the computer system. The employer accepted her offer but informed her that she could rescind or reconsider her resignation. On October 11, 2016, less than three weeks after English’s resignation, Manulife announced that it would “suspend the conversion indefinitely.”

A couple of weeks later, English informed her employer that she intended to rescind her resignation upon news that the conversion was no longer scheduled. Manulife chose to accept her resignation anyway and ended her employment on December 12, 2016. English subsequently sued for wrongful dismissal.

The Superior Court found in favour of Manulife on the grounds that English’s notice of retirement was clear and unequivocal and while Manulife could have chosen to rescind her resignation, they were not obligated to do so. The court referred to the basic principles of contract law which state that a contract that has been offered and accepted will be enforced by the courts unless the terms of the contract are ambiguous.

2019 Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the motion judge’s finding, deciding instead that English’s retirement letter was not clear and unequivocal; therefore, she was entitled to withdraw it. The court reasoned that at the time English informed Manulife of her intention to resign she also told them she was unsure whether she wanted to resign. Her employer responded by saying that she could change her mind at a later date. Manulife is bound to the assurance it made to English that she could change her mind. For this reason, English’s termination was ruled a wrongful dismissal.

Takeaways

When an employee presents a letter of resignation, you should inquire into the circumstances surrounding their decision, particularly in instances where the resignation is a surprise or otherwise unusual. The lesson to be learned from this is that an employee’s resignation may not be enough to establish that there is a clear and unequivocal intention to resign. Also, be mindful of the assurances you provide to employees at the time of dismissal as they may be able to rely on these statements later.