The law with respect to determining the validity of a
resignation in the workplace can seem as murky as the early summer
waters of the lake at the cottage: in the workplace, the
utterance of "I quit" may not be considered a resignation
at law when further context is provided. However, just as
with water safety, it is wise to take note of the general
principles and the tales of others to minimize the risks in these
In that regard, the following general principles inform any
discussion of a workplace resignation:
A resignation must be clear and unequivocal. It must
objectively reflect an intent to resign, or there must be conduct
evidencing such an intention.
The surrounding circumstances must be reviewed to determine
whether a reasonable person, viewing the matter objectively, would
conclude that the employee resigned.
A resignation during a spontaneous outburst during highly
charged emotional circumstances can undermine its essential
voluntariness. Moreover, sometimes an employee's actions are
equivocal such that his actions cannot be construed as voluntary
The length of time an employee maintains that he resigned is
relevant to the determination that he resigned and was not
[W]here an employee expresses dissatisfaction with an employer
about a wrong committed by the employer (real or perceived), and
declares and intention to seek other employment without words or
actions indicative of a firm intention to quit, he or she has not
The retraction of a clear notice to quit must occur and be
communicated to the employer before the employer communicates
acceptance of the resignation to the employee.
The above principles, as derived from the case law, illustrate
the importance of facts in each particular case; there is no doubt
that the courts consider each case on its own circumstances.
In that regard, credibility findings are central to many
As such, employers are well-advised to document conversations
and events as close as possible to the time of their occurrence, to
clarify employee intentions and to formally send correspondence
accepting employee resignations. If an employee is found to
have had his or her employment terminated rather than to have
resigned, the employer may be liable for significant damages
including payment in lieu of notice of termination.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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