Verbal Resignations – Are they Valid in the UK?

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Heated situations within a workplace may prompt some to cast out verbal resignations. For example, when emotions run high,  individuals may, in the heat of the moment, resign from their jobs on the spot. 

The question that comes to mind is – are verbal resignations valid in the UK?

To understand this, the case of Mr R Omar v Epping Forest can stand as a learning point that employers and employees can look to. 

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Case Summary of Mr R Omar v Epping Forest

Mr Omar’s situation unfolded in February 2020 during a heated altercation with his line manager. Furthermore, he made a ‘heat of the moment’ resignation verbally after expressing frustration. This wasn’t the first instance of such intent from Mr Omar, as previous verbal resignations had not been acknowledged.

The intricacies arose when, following the altercation, Mr Omar was invited to reconsider his position. 

Despite initially agreeing to articulate his resignation in writing, he later sought to retract it. The employer rebuffed the retraction, treating his employment as terminated on one month’s notice. Mr Omar contested this decision, triggering a legal battle that traversed through the Employment Tribunal and, ultimately, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The EAT underscored fundamental principles for handling heat-of-the-moment resignations, emphasising the importance of an objective assessment of whether the employee ‘really intended’ to resign. 

This case highlights the significance of meticulously evaluating the circumstances surrounding verbal resignations, focusing on the objective perspective of a reasonable bystander.

Are Verbal Resignations Valid?

The question of the validity of verbal resignations in the UK is not straightforward. 

Are verbal resignations valid?

While the law generally acknowledges verbal resignations, the circumstances surrounding such declarations play a pivotal role. In Mr Omar’s case, the EAT highlighted the necessity to consider whether, objectively, it would appear to a reasonable employer that the employee genuinely intended to resign. 

The subjective intention of the resigning party may not be the decisive factor; instead, it’s the perception of the reasonable bystander that carries weight.

Further, verbal resignations, especially those made in the heat of the moment, can present challenges in interpretation. 

The EAT’s decision implies that the employer must assess whether the words used by the employee indicate a serious and rational intention to resign. This shows the complexity of discerning the validity of verbal resignations, necessitating a meticulous examination of the circumstances and communication dynamics.

What Employers Should Do When an Employee Resigns

Employers should navigate resignations thoroughly. Here are key steps employers should consider:

  • Establish a Clear Resignation Policy:

Develop a comprehensive resignation policy outlining expectations regarding the format of resignation, withdrawal options, and notice periods.

  • Document Resignations in Writing:

Encourage employees to submit written resignation letters, even if the initial communication is verbal. This creates a clear record and aids in documentation.

  • Clarify Notice Periods:

Communicate notice period requirements based on employment contracts. Specify the consequences if an employee fails to adhere to the notice period.

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  • Address Resignation in a Structured Manner:

Conduct exit interviews to understand the reasons behind the resignation and address any grievances or concerns the departing employee may have.

  • Seek Professional Advice:

In cases of uncertainty or legal complexities, seek professional advice to ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations.

  • Consider Cooling-Off Periods:

Introduce a cooling-off period in appropriate cases to allow employees to reconsider their resignation before finalising the termination.

Employers must approach these situations with caution, adhering to best practices and legal principles to avoid potential disputes and legal ramifications.

The validity of verbal resignations in the UK hinges on various factors. Mr R Omar v Epping Forest case provides valuable guidance for employers. By implementing clear policies, documenting resignations, and handling the process in a structured manner, employers can navigate the complexities of verbal resignations with greater confidence.

If you require advice or guidance on employment law matters, head to the Redmans website. To get in touch with our team of expert employment lawyers, click here.


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