Resignation vs. Termination: The $64,000 (or more) Question

Feb 10, 2017

Employers prefer it when an employee resigns because the employee is not entitled to any termination pay. To be valid, a resignation must be voluntary, clear and unequivocal; otherwise a so-called resignation could in fact be a termination, in which case the employee is entitled to termination pay. A contested resignation often takes place when an employee leaves the workplace after an emotional outburst. A recent decision from British Columbia considered this kind of situation.

Bishop v Rexel Canada Electrical Inc.

Mr. Bishop was a buyer in Rexel’s purchasing department. In December 2015, his supervisor asked him to take on an additional task of releasing web orders to assist another buyer who was overwhelmed. Mr. Bishop began feeling significantly overburdened by the addition of this task.

On January 4, 2016, Mr. Bishop’s supervisor requested that he continue to perform the task of releasing web orders. Mr. Bishop sent a hasty email to his supervisor saying he was “up to [his] ass in orders” and that if the web orders were being “dumped” on him again, he would not be returning.

Mr. Bishop and his supervisor then had a phone conversation, the contents of which were debated between the parties. While Mr. Bishop said he did not resign during this call, his supervisor testified he confirmed his resignation. Mr. Bishop was then escorted from the office and asked to return his keys.

In finding that Mr. Bishop had not resigned, the judge pointed to the following three factors:

  • Bishop was clearly upset on January 4, 2016, Ms. King was aware of his emotional state and should not have taken his word as definitive without further inquiry once his emotions had settled.
  • Prior to the alleged resignation, his supervisor had nominated Mr. Bishop for termination/layoff in January 2016. His resignation must be viewed within this context.
  • Rexel was in a rush to confirm Mr. Bishop’s resignation.

Given that Mr. Bishop did not resign, the court found that Mr. Bishop was in fact terminated after he was asked to return his keys.

Lessons to be Learned

Resignations are not necessarily black-and-white. A judge will look at surrounding circumstances to determine whether the resignation was voluntary, clear and unequivocal. If an employer is insisting you resigned, and you disagree, you should consider speaking with an employment lawyer about your situation. You can contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

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