When is a resignation not a resignation?

Posted on Nov 21, 2018

Recently, in the case of East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust v Levy, the question arose as to when a resignation would not be a resignation. Whilst this may seem like a strange scenario to occur, this judgement is very important to employers if they were to ever find themselves in this situation.

In this case Levy worked in the Trust’s Records department and applied for a different job in the Trust’s Radiology department and was subsequently offered the job. Levy had a history of difficulty with a co worker and a poor absence record which led to her receiving a verbal warning. After being offered the job, she wrote a letter to her manager headed 10th June 2016 which read ‘Please accept one month’s notice from the above date’. Her manager responded on the same day with a letter headed ‘notice of resignation’ which accepted Levy’s resignation and noted the last day of employment as 8th July 2016. Her manager didn’t go on to complete the usual forms for employees leaving the Trust and he provided a reference to the Radiology department. Levy was then alerted that her offer from the Radiology department had been withdrawn. Levy requested the retraction of her resignation from her manager which was not accepted, after the HR department informed her manager he did not have to accept this. Levy then bought a claim for unfair dismissal which the Trust argued against stating she had resigned.

At the Employment Tribunal it was held that she had been unfairly dismissed. They rejected the Trust’s argument that the words of her letter were clear and unambiguous. In addition, they stated that even if her words were clear and unambiguous due to the context in which they were meant, there were ‘special circumstances’ which required her words to be construed objectively considering all the circumstances.

The Trust then appealed but their appeal was dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal who held the Employment Tribunal’s findings were entirely correct.

This case is one of great importance as it emphasises firstly, the need for words of resignation to be completely clear and unambiguous. As well as this, it gives great importance to surrounding circumstances of a case in deciding whether a resignation has been made or not. Furthermore, only a valid notice can’t be withdrawn by either the employer or employee. If the notice isn’t valid, like in this case, then the employer faces the consequences of not retracting the resignation, such as an unfair dismissal claim landing at their feet. This reinforces the dangers to employers of not withdrawing a resignation when requested as they could find themselves in serious legal trouble like the Trust here.