The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Omar v Epping Forest District Citizens Advice that the tribunal had been wrong to find that the claimant's resignation in the heat of the moment during an altercation with his manager was really intended.
The claimant resigned from his employment "in the heat of the moment" during an altercation with his line manager, S. On the same day he claimed that the CEO of Epping Forest District Citizens Advice (EFDCA) had told him to consider an offer of an alternative role. However, at a meeting a couple of days later, the CEO told him that S had decided she no longer wanted to work with him and so his resignation would still stand. The claimant sought to retract his resignation, but EFDCA refused to accept his retraction and treated his employment as terminating on one month's notice.
The claimant brought a claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal and argued that his case fell within a "special circumstances exception" identified by the Court of Appeal in the case of Sothern v Franks Charlesly and Co. In that case, the Court held that, although an employer is normally entitled to rely on unambiguous words of resignation in accordance with their plain and natural meaning, there were "special circumstances" that could oust the application of the general rule, such as a decision taken in the heat of the moment.
The tribunal found that there was no dismissal, but the EAT disagreed with the tribunal's reasoning. It found that words of dismissal or resignation must be construed objectively in all the circumstances of the case, in accordance with normal contractual rules of interpretation. The words used will be judged from the perspective of the reasonable bystander in the position of the recipient of those words. The dismissal or resignation must be "seriously meant" or "really intended" or "conscious and rational". Evidence as to what happened afterwards is admissible insofar as it is relevant and casts light, objectively, on whether the resignation or dismissal was "really intended" at the time.
The EAT found that the tribunal had erred in law in asking itself whether there were special circumstances that justified departure from the general rule rather than applying an objective test to determine whether it would have appeared to a reasonable employer that the claimant had "really intended" to resign. The case was remitted to a fresh tribunal for a full rehearing.
Take note: The decision in Omar provides useful guidance for an employer faced with having to decide whether an individual who resigns in the heat of the moment genuinely means to resign. If the resignation was not really intended then it will not be effective. It will be necessary to undertake an objective assessment of the facts and judge them from the perspective of a reasonable employer.