Resignations Must Be ‘Clear’ and ‘Unequivocal’

Throughout the past year, several decisions have consistently illustrated that employers must exercise extreme caution when receiving and responding to employee resignations. The overarching theme that the courts repeatedly confirmed was that employee resignations, retirements or job abandonments must be clear and unequivocal. Furthermore, the court reiterated that the onus is on the employer to accept and confirm the logistics surrounding the resignation.

These principals were reaffirmed in both Mah v. ARJ Investment and Nagpal v. IBM and were highlighted in the recent English v. Manulife Financial Corporation decision. In English, the court paid particular attention to the circumstances surrounding the employee’s resignation to support their decision that it was not clear and unequivocal. In this case, a 66-year old employee tendered her resignation upon learning about the employer’s plans to transition to a new computer system. Upon providing her formal notice, she was advised that she would be allowed to rescind or reconsider her decision to retire. However, less than three weeks later the employee was barred from withdrawing her resignation! The Ontario Court of Appeal found that that the employer had acted unreasonably in the circumstances and were bound to the reassurance made to the employee whereby she would be allowed to rescind her resignation. As such, the employee was deemed wrongfully dismissed and the court awarded her twelve (12) months’ salary in lieu of notice.

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