It can be surprisingly difficult for an employer to rely on
statements such as "I quit" to establish that an employee
resigned, particularly if the employee later indicates that they
want to return to work. Courts require proof of a clear intention
to resign in order to find that an employee terminated their
employment. While the statement "I quit" may seem clear,
courts will inquire into the circumstances in which the statement
was made in order to determine whether the employee actually
A recent decision from the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal provides
useful guidance on the law of employee resignations. In Kerr v
Valley Volkswagen, 2015 NSCA 7, Kerr worked as a parts manager
for Valley Volkswagen. Kerr gave the employer an ultimatum to
either raise his salary by $100 per week or else he would quit. The
employer waited three weeks to see if Kerr would change his mind,
and when he did not they accepted his resignation. Kerr then
brought a wrongful dismissal action alleging that Valley Volkswagon
had terminated his employment.
The Court confirmed that the determination of whether an
employee has resigned requires a careful examination of the
context, having regard to all of the circumstances. The resignation
must be voluntary and the employee's words or conduct
evidencing a resignation must be clear and unequivocal. The court
must be satisfied that there was an objective intention to
The Court upheld the trial judge's decision that Kerr's
threat to resign was made in clear and unambiguous terms. A
reasonable person would have understood that the statement was to
be taken seriously and was a true statement of intent.
The Court of Appeal also rejected Kerr's argument that even
if the ultimatum constituted a resignation, he was entitled to
resile from it unless the employer had acted on it to its
detriment. The Court held that this position was contrary to the
basic principles of contract law, which hold that an enforceable
contract is created when a party communicates their acceptance of a
valid offer. The employer is not required to act on a resignation
to their detriment. Instead, once the resignation is accepted, the
contractual bargain (to terminate the employment relationship) is
The Court of Appeal held that Kerr was not entitled to resile
from his resignation after it had been accepted. If, however, Kerr
had retracted his offer to resign in the three weeks between when
he made the offer and when the employer accepted it, he would not
necessarily have been bound by the resignation and the employer
would have had to show detrimental reliance in order to enforce
This case affirms the importance of context in determining
whether an employer can rely on an apparent resignation. It also
confirms that if an employer accepts an objectively clear and
unequivocal resignation, there is a high likelihood that the
employee will not be permitted to subsequently retract their
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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