Beware of Ambiguous Resignations

When is a resignation actually an effective resignation?

In the recent case of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust v Levy, an employer was found to have unfairly dismissed an employee for refusing to allow an employee to retract an ambiguous resignation letter.

The Law

For an employer or employee to lawfully terminate a contract of employment, notice is usually required. To be effective, the notice must be clear and unambiguous and must specify the date of termination or at least contain facts from which the end date can be worked out – otherwise the notice is not valid and will not end the employment relationship. It is only when a notice is valid that it cannot be retracted without the agreement of the other party.

The Facts

Mrs Levy was employed by East Kent Hospitals (the Hospital) in the Records Department but because she was having difficulties in that department, she applied for a position in the Radiology Department. Her application was successful, subject to pre-appointment checks. After an argument with a member of staff in the Records department she wrote a letter to her manager which said, “Please accept one month’s notice from the above date”. The manager responded the same day accepting Mrs Levy’s “notice of resignation” and referred to her last working day within the Records Department.

The manager did not complete a staff termination form, did not mention Mrs Levy leaving her employment or to any other usual issues you would normally deal with on termination, such as accrued holiday. Mrs Levy’s offer of employment to Radiology was subsequently withdrawn and she then tried to retract her “notice”. However, the Hospital refused to agree and confirmed her employment would end at the end of her notice period.

Mrs Levy subsequently brought a claim of unfair dismissal against the Hospital, claiming she had been directly dismissed by the Hospital. The Hospital defended the claim and stated that she had resigned.

The Employment Tribunal found in Mrs Levy’s favour and held that although her letter was ambiguous about whether she was giving notice to leave the department or her employment generally, the Hospital had in fact understood she was only giving notice of leaving the department based on a reasonable construction of the manager’s letter. Accordingly, the Tribunal held that it was the Hospital who ended Mrs Levy’s employment because it would not let her return to her job in the Records Department.

The Hospital appealed against the finding of unfair dismissal.

The Decision

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed the appeal. The Judge agreed that Mrs Levy’s notice was ambiguous. Given this, the Judge said the Tribunal had applied the correct test which was to ask what a reasonable recipient would have understood by the notice in light of the particular circumstances known to the recipient when the notice was received. These included the fact that the Hospital knew Mrs Levy was intending to transfer to an internal position still in the Hospital’s employment. The EAT held that the Tribunal had not made a mistake in its approach or in its conclusion that Mrs Levy’s employment had been terminated by dismissal and not resignation.

Points to note

The Hospital should have considered at the time whether the resignation was valid or not, rather than assuming – as appears to have happened – that because Mrs Levy asked to retract her notice, they were under no obligation to agree to this. By refusing to allow Mrs Levy to retract her “notice of resignation” and telling her that her employment would end when her notice expired, the Hospital effectively ended her employment.

Action to take

1. If you receive a letter of resignation that is unclear or does not specify an end date, check with the employee what they mean first before accepting it.

2. A resignation given “in the heat of the moment” does not necessarily amount to a genuine resignation. It is good practice to give the employee the opportunity to clarify their intentions once they have cooled down.

3. It can be tempting to react quickly when an opportunity appears to present itself to say goodbye to a difficult employee, but as this case demonstrates – this can be a risky and costly move! If in doubt, seek legal advice.

Case Reference

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust v Levy 

Please feel free to leave a comment, question or observation below. Alternatively get in touch directly: hello@realemploymentlawadvice.co.uk

 This article was written and researched by Miranda Amos, Solicitor 

 Don’t forget getting advice from a Solicitor does not have to be complicated or costly!


Would you like the latest news & best practice for employing staff, direct to your inbox?

Sign up to my newsletter and you will also receive 10 easy to implement tips for happier staff.

Sign up now

Email Address *


Please do not worry I will not send you spam! We will also not pass on your details to anyone else and will comply with the terms of our Privacy Policy in handling your data.

The only data we will hold is your name and email address.

 


Would you liAdvice neededke advice about your situation?

Appointments are available on the telephone or via Skype throughout the UK.

Alternatively we offer face to face appointments on the Isle of Wight, in Eastleigh, Salisbury, Southampton, Fareham, Portsmouth, Winchester and surrounding areas in Hampshire.

 


Real Employment Law Advice Logo

The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

 

Solicitor in Eastleigh | Solicitor in Salisbury | Solicitor Isle of Wight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get in Touch

Please tick to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy.