“I’m done” – Were these words enough to amount to a resignation?

The Employment Tribunal (ET) in the case of Cope v Razzle Dazzle Costumes Limited has recently considered whether the words “I’m done” amounted to a resignation.

Background

Miss Cope (the Claimant) was employed as a factory supervisor cutter by Razzle Dazzle Costumes (the Respondent). A colleague of the Claimant resigned in 2021 accusing the Claimant of bullying. After these allegations were brought to her attention, the Claimant requested a meeting with the business owners, Mr and Mrs Parker, at which she threatened to resign if things were not sorted. The day after the meeting, the Claimant made two attempts to speak to Mrs Parker and was informed on both occasions that she was not available. On the second attempt and after being advised that Mrs Parker was not available, she placed her factory keys on the desk and stated “I’m done” with a hand gesture to indicate she was finished before leaving the premises.

The colleague who informed the Claimant on both occasions that Mrs Parker was unavailable subsequently advised Mr and Mrs Parker that the Claimant had resigned. Neither Mr nor Mrs Parker made any attempts to check with the Claimant if this was correct, despite the fact that the Claimant sent a text message to the owners that same evening about wanting to speak to them. The Claimant also indicated she would be submitting a sick note the following day. The owners refused to let the Claimant return to work noting that they believed she had resigned, and that they had accepted her resignation.

The Claimant brought claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, and disability discrimination.

The Law

In the case of Sovereign House Security Limited v Savage, it was held that unambiguous words of resignation that are spoken in the heat of the moment do not necessarily amount to a resignation. It was noted in that case that an employee should be given the opportunity to confirm that they did not intend to bring the employment relationship to an end.

Decision

The Claimant was successful in both her unfair and wrongful dismissal claims. The ET noted that:

No reasonable employer could have considered that the claimant’s actions on 9 September 2021 were an act of unambiguous resignation.’

The ET looked at the evidence which suggested that at the time of the Claimant’s actions, she was in a highly anxious state and her subsequent actions in obtaining a sick note were not consistent with her presumed intention to resign. Whilst the ET confirmed that resignations do not have to be in writing, notice must, however, be clear and unambiguous. The Claimant here had not used the word ‘resign’ or indicated she wasn’t returning, instead she had continued to act in a way which suggested she still considered herself to be an employee.

Comments

The findings of the tribunal in this case act as a reminder to employers, that if the meaning of something an employee says is not ‘crystal clear’, the appropriate reaction is to ask and clarify. That will be a particularly important step to take where termination of employment is concerned. If it is unclear what has happened or was said, or if a situation escalated quickly and words were exchanged suggesting a resignation (but for the unusual circumstances), employers should take the extra step and clarify before proceeding on an assumption. This will help to minimise risk.

A standard UK employment contract usually requires notice to be in writing. Including such a provision is one of the ways in which employers can avoid the risks of “heat of the moment”, oral resignations. Where a contract requires notice in writing the notice will not be effective until it is provided in the required form. Employers could therefore rely on that provision by requiring the employee to put it in writing.

References: Cope v Razzle Dazzle Costumes Limited 1304683/2021

Sovereign House Security Limited v Savage (1989) IRLR 115

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