Handing in keys is not resignation!

A factory supervisor who handed in her keys in an “anxious state” and said she was “done” in fact did not resign and was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.   A judge has said a ‘reasonable employer’ could not have considered the actions to be an ‘unambiguous’ resignation.

The supervisor who was anxious after a colleague accused her of bullying and then her stoma bag leaked, was a victim of unfair and wrongful dismissal when the employer took her leaving the workplace as a resignation.

The tribunal found that the employer took the chance to dismiss the supervisor as her dispute with a colleague was causing a headache and they took the opportunity to determine that she had resigned as managing both parties caused difficulty in the workplace.

The tribunal noted that a colleague of the supervisor, resigned and accused her of being a bully after they fell out at work. The employer informed the supervisor of the accusations which she denied and stated that if she was made to work with this colleague she would go off sick.

The employee left the building and had claimed she was anxious about the bullying allegations. The next day, her anxiety increased, and was exacerbated by a leak to her stoma bag. Colleagues noted that she was “visibly upset”.

The tribunal heard that she put her keys on the desk and said, “I’m done” with a hand gesture that indicated “she was finished”.

The tribunal pointed out that at no point did the claimant say she was resigning or that she was not coming back to work, and determined that it would have been apparent to anyone that she was “very anxious and clearly upset”.

The MD was told that the supervisor had resigned and the tribunal found that he did not check with her to see if that was correct.

The tribunal said that while a resignation can be oral or by conduct, and does not need to be written, no “reasonable employer” could have considered the supervisor’s actions to be an “act of unambiguous resignation”, and that the hand gesture she used “added nothing to the words spoken” by an anxious person.

The Employment Judge said that on the balance of probabilities the employer “took the opportunity to dispense with” the supervisor due to her dispute with a fellow colleague. The tribunal awarded the supervisor £7,448.96 for loss of statutory rights, notice of pay and loss of earnings, alongside a basic award.

This case should remind employers that it’s wise to allow a “cooling off period” to any employee who infers a resignation when emotions are running high. There is no fixed amount of time for this cooling period as it will depend on all the circumstances.

If you require HR support to manage an employee relations issue, contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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