Like in any relationship, tensions can arise between you and your staff from time to time. The fact is we just don’t always get along with each other as we would hope.
In those moments of tension, you or your employees can react in a way you later regret.
If you act badly, then you may find yourself on the end of a personal grievance claim.
If your employee acts badly, they may swear, curse you or take some other action that may justify disciplinary action.
But what if, in the heat of the moment, your employee says something like, “I’m out of here,” or “I’ve had enough, I quit!” and storm out the door?
Frankly, if they behave like that, you may be glad to see the back of them. But should you take it that your employee has resigned in those circumstances?
The cases on this point suggest you should be cautious, as I explain below.
HOW RESIGNATION NORMALLY WORKS
Normally, an employee’s resignation is effective as soon as they have given proper notice. The clock then winds down to the end of the notice period and their last day of employment.
The implications of that are:
- you don’t have to accept their resignation for it to be effective; and
- neither of you can stop the employment from ending unless you both agree that the resignation can be retracted, and act as if it never happened.
So when your employee says “I’m out of here,” isn’t that sufficient to bring the employment to an end? Well, it depends.
NO RESIGNATION AFTER ALL
There are two types of situations where it may appear to you that your employee has resigned, but where it would not be reasonable for you to treat them has actually giving notice of resignation.
No intention to resign
It is unfair for employers to attribute meaning to an employee’s words that they never intended.
For example, they may have uttered the words “I’m out of here!” as they left a meeting with you, as a way of saying that they no longer wished to continue that meeting – not that they wanted to leave their job entirely.
A fair employer will ensure that the employee really did intend to resign before proceeding on the basis that the employment is coming to end.
An emotional outburst
On the other hand, your employee may use very clear words that leave you in no doubt that they wish to resign – yet do so as part of an emotional outburst.
When tempers flare, we all hope that we will be forgiven for saying things we later regret. A fair and reasonable employer must take that into account and treat emotional outbursts as a poor reflection of an employee’s intent.
So even if your employee clearly says to you, “I resign,” but does so while yelling at the top of their lungs and thumping their fist on the board room table, steam coming out of their ears, what really matters is whether they are prepared to still say those words in the cold light of day once they have returned to room temperature.
HOW TO HANDLE AN APPARENT RESIGNATION
So what should you do if your employee appears to resign?
First, stop and consider whether the words they have used are clear and unambiguous. If not, seek clarification. Ask them whether they are saying that they wish to resign, and if so, to put their resignation in writing so that you can be really sure that is what they intend.
Second, even if clear words have been used, be slow to treat them as having resigned if they have spoken in the heat of a tense moment. Let them sleep on it overnight, and gently ask them the next day if they really did want to resign now that they have had an opportunity to cool down.
The lesson here is that fair and reasonable employers will recognise that human communication can be imperfect at times and be willing to give the employee the benefit of any lingering doubt.
Don’t rush to confirm the employee’s actions, whether it be their resignation or other rash behaviour. Recognise that tomorrow they may come back to the office, a little sheepish about how they have acted, and in quite a different frame of mind.
They may just apologise and carry on dutifully.