I didn’t mean it! Can an employee retract their resignation

Tuesday October 11, 2022

Resignations come in all shapes and sizes, from a simple written note to a charming cake with the detail iced in the decoration. Particularly disgruntled employees have scribed resignation letters on loo roll or complemented their written notice with an illustration, witticism or coarse language.

All of the above require some thought and consideration and leave no ambiguity as to the quitters’ intentions. What, though, if someone proclaims their resignation in the heat of the moment during a row?

“I quit!” [Exit stage left]

If there is a row and someone storms off declaring they are quitting, it may prove wise not to immediately take this at face value. Of course, a lot will depend on the circumstances, but there is much to be said for a pause while everyone calms down.

It would be good practice to then ask for the resignation to be put in writing. Your employment contract may already require this, in which case it is essential; but even if it is not essential, requesting the employee to confirm their decision a little later provides opportunity for them to think more deeply. There’s something about putting a decision in writing that makes it more serious!

Digging deeper

If you don’t feel you know the full facts, first schedule a conversation to understand the issues (you might also do this if they have quit by text message). This could give them the space they need to retract a rash decision. Equally, it will help you make an informed decision as to whether to accept any retraction.

As they explain the situation, issues to consider include whether irreparable damage has been done to relationships with their colleagues and you, or if there is some serious underlying problem that needs addressing – say bullying, harassment or too heavy a workload.

Rejecting a retraction

If a retraction does not come, then obviously there is no decision to make – they are gone.

If they do express regret and wish to keep their job, you should be armed with all the information to make a good decision.

Sometimes rejecting a retraction will be your only choice, but other times there may be an element of risk to doing this. For example, where an employee was not in a sound state of mind to make a rational decision and you failed to give them a reasonable period of time to reflect on what had happened. Or if an employee has been provoked into a rash resignation by you or their manager.

With such context in mind, tribunal judgments have gone either way depending on the merits of each case.

Unfair dismissal has been rejected where someone was invited to change their mind in a 30-minute window and didn’t, but did eventually retract after four days and it was rejected – the judge felt this was too long a period to wait. On another occasion, unfair dismissal has been upheld where it was judged that a resignation made under stress was accepted too readily by employers who already wanted shot of the employee.

Need further help?

Recruitment and retention may be hard for many businesses right now, so you don’t want to lose a good employee if the situation can be rescued. A cool-off period and request for resignation in writing are a good starting point so that everyone can eventually come to a rational decision – whether that is to stay or go. For expert help with handling a resignation, please get in touch.

Preventing People Problems

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