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Had second thoughts about resigning after a row at work? We explain the legal landscape.

Had second thoughts about resigning after a row at work? We explain the legal landscape.

An employee who resigned in the heat of the moment then changed his mind is to get another chance to plead his case for unfair and wrongful dismissal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has decided that the tribunal which originally heard Mr Omar’s case against his employer, Epping Forest District Citizens Advice (EFDCA), made legal mistakes when it ruled that he had indeed resigned and therefore could not have been dismissed.

Mr Omar – who has always maintained he didn’t really mean to resign from his job – will now have his case reheard in full at a fresh tribunal.

The new hearing will be asked to specifically consider the implications of whether Mr Omar actually intended to resign but changed his mind or didn’t really intend to resign in the first place.

What happened in this ‘heat of the moment’ resignation case?

Mr Omar and his line manager, Ms Skinner, had what could be called a pretty volatile relationship with a history of altercations. Mr Omar would say he was resigning but then, when asked to reconsider, would change his mind.

However, in February 2020, after another disagreement with Ms Skinner, Mr Omar once again resigned and this time feelings were running extremely high on both sides.

According to Mr Omar, the organisation’s chief executive then asked him to consider a different role in EFDCA but by the next day, Ms Skinner had decided she no longer wanted to work with him at all.

Mr Omar initially agreed he would put his resignation in writing but didn’t do so and then sought to formally retract it.

His employer, EFDCA, refused to accept this and terminated his employment on the basis that he’d given a month’s notice when he first resigned.

This, said Mr Omar, amounted to unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal because there were ‘special circumstances’ involved and took his case to the employment tribunal.

What did the courts decide on this ‘heat of the moment’ resignation case?

Initially, the employment tribunal ruled that Mr Omar had brought his employment contract to an end by resigning and therefore, he was not dismissed, unfairly or otherwise.

But the Employment Appeal Tribunal took a different view, ruling that the first hearing had not looked carefully enough at the relevant legal principles or the chronology of what had happened between Mr Omar and Ms Skinner.

The judge pointed out that the crucial thing to consider was whether, in the eyes of a ‘reasonable employer’, Mr Omar had really intended to resign. The offer, or not, of another role in the organisation, he said, was a red herring.

What does the law say on ‘heat of the moment’ resignations?

Obviously, any decision to resign is a big one and should not be taken lightly as, once you have resigned, you can’t retract it unless the other party, that’s your employer, agrees.

However, when it comes to resigning during a heated exchange, there is some leeway and this is where the ‘reasonable employer’ argument comes in.

The resignation must be deemed to be ‘seriously meant’ or ‘really intended’ or ‘conscious and rational’ and this is where Mr Omar’s first hearing fell down in not fully considering this aspect of his case.

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If you need help or advice about a similar scenario, please contact Wards Solicitors’ specialist Employment Team.

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