When a Resignation is a Resignation

This Employment Relations Authority case is based on a sad set of background facts, but demonstrates when an employer can deem a resignation as exactly that.

Corrine Tribe had only been working for her employer for four weeks when she was diagnosed with cancer, advised her tongue would need to be removed and other tissue transplanted to replace it – her treatment and recovery period was expected to be a year. Two days after receiving this news Ms Tribe emailed her employer with the following:

“Whilst I would dearly love to hope that the job would be there for me I appreciate that a business cannot be run like that and that you probably need to move on, cut your losses and employ someone new,” …”I am concerned that my ability to speak clearly, whilst not hindering the job itself, may make it difficult for a new employer to take a chance on me so if it was at all possible for me to keep in touch with the hope of anything that may come up at JSC I would be very grateful.” Ms Tribe also asked what was the best day for her to finish.

The employer asked her to confirm her resignation in writing, however Ms Tribe refused. The company determined the email was a resignation, and replaced Ms Tribe with a new employee. To the employer’s surprise, a month later, Ms Tribe arrived at their offices asking about returning. The company advised her there was no position and subsequently Ms Tribe raised a personal grievance, claiming the email was sent during a highly emotional period and should not have been accepted as a resignation. She described herself as feeling that she did not know ‘which way is up’ at the time.

However, the Authority noted Ms Tribe did not write the email immediately after she received the devastating news but after reflection over two days. The Authority found that her email was sufficiently clear and unequivocal and therefore the employer was entitled to conclude Ms Tribe had resigned. Ms Tribe was ordered to pay the employer $3000 in costs.

Resignations are not always clear, and we would advise caution if there is the possibility of doubt. Any resignation given in the heat of the moment should be provided with a cooling off period, and we recommend any communication is best followed up in writing and notes taken.

This employment information is supplied by Chapman ER – www.chapmaner.co.nz

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