The EAT has upheld a tribunal's decision that, where an employee had resigned in the heat of the moment but been given a reasonable cooling off period to reconsider his decision, he had resigned and not been dismissed – Ali v Birmingham City Council.

At a time when he claimed he was "under pressure, stressed and couldn't think straight", Mr Ali gave a letter of resignation to his manager. His manager offered him a 20-minute cooling off period to reconsider his decision. Because he was still upset at the end of the 20 minutes, his manager gave him further time.

Ten minutes later Mr Ali confirmed his wish to resign and his resignation was accepted. Four days later Mr Ali sent his manager an email saying that he wished to return to work. However he was told that his resignation had been accepted and he could not return to work. Mr Ali claimed unfair dismissal.

The EAT upheld the tribunal's decision that his resignation had not been tendered in the heat of the moment, as he had persisted with his desire to resign after being given an opportunity to reflect. He also had not tried to withdraw his resignation until more than 4 days afterwards.

Impact on employers

Generally, employers are entitled to rely on an employee's resignation. However, there may be special circumstances where, because of the context of the resignation (so called heat of the moment resignations) or the employee's particular circumstances (e.g. a vulnerable or immature employee), further action may be required on the part of the employer. In these types of case, employers should not accept a resignation at face value, but should make sure the employee is given the opportunity to reflect on their decision. This EAT decision confirms that, provided employers do so, they will not be held to have dismissed the employee and that a reasonable period of reflection can be relatively short.