As most individuals working within the employment industry will tell you, the law gives very little information on the parameters of employment law in Malta. The recent case of Adolf Vella vs Sea Port Franchising Limited1 has shed some light on the form a resignation must take in order to be considered valid under Maltese law.
In this case, the Tribunal was faced with conflicting testimonies; the applicant was stating that he had never effectively resigned, whilst the employer was stating that the employee had resigned verbally. Whilst deliberating the case, the Tribunal quoted from Selwyn2 who writes that
"if the words used by the employee are clear and unambiguous, then there are no grounds for the employment tribunal to find that the words have a significance other than their plain meaning. If the words are ambiguous, then the test is, what would a reasonable employer have understood by those words in that context. Words spoken or action taken by an employee in the heat of the moment or under extreme pressure should not necessarily be taken at face value."
The Tribunal also referred to a previous case in the name of Albert Galea vs Mediterranean Film Studios3 in which case it had been stated that a resignation from employment is a serious act and as such should not be ambiguous and needs to be clear, genuine, explicit, authentic, made voluntarily and preferably given in writing. A resignation should never be presumed or assumed.
In Vella vs Sea Port Franchising Limited, the Tribunal concluded that the employer had not made an effort to confirm whether the employee actually meant to resign and in fact had tried to hide the fact that the notice period was passing, including allowing the employee to make arrangements to attend a conference which was to take place after the notice period would have expired.
In Roger Debono vs Gozo Hotels Company Limited4, the Tribunal arrived at a similar conclusion and held that an employer's failure to confirm a verbal resignation might give rise to a case of unfair dismissal under employment law. The dispute which led to this case arose following an argument with the general manager of the employing company, during which, the employee allegedly resigned. The Tribunal found an omission on the part of the employer because the employer did not attempt to clarify whether the employee did in fact wish to resign once the situation had calmed down.
Following an analysis of the Tribunal's comments in case law, one can conclude that in order for a resignation to be considered valid under Maltese law, such resignation must be clear in its intent to inform the employer that the employment relationship will be terminated and if possible such resignation should be in writing. Should a resignation be given verbally, an employer must always ensure to confirm with the employee that such resignation was intended and was not given in the heat of the moment.
When obtaining confirmation that the employee meant to resign, an employer must be cautious in the way this is tackled. An employee should be given the option to confirm the resignation or inform the employer that such verbal resignation was not intended so as to ensure that there is no case of constructive dismissal.
1 Decided by the Industrial Tribunal on the 9th October 2019
2 Selwyn's Law of Employment, twentieth edition
3 Decided by the Industrial Tribunal on the 23rd February 2000 and subsequently confirmed by the Court of Appeal on the 5th May 2004 by Judge Giannino Caruana Demajo
4 Decided by the Industrial Tribunal on the 27th July 2018
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