Words can be funny things sometimes especially when it comes to people resigning from a job.
It may appear to be an easy thing to recognise a resignation but in practice many in HR can tell you otherwise. For example say that an employee has a confrontation with their manager and walks out saying “right I’m off” or “that’s it, I’m leaving”. Have they resigned? Or are they simply going to take time out. If tempers have been lost the employer will generally have to clarify what the employee meant before just assuming that they have left.
In contrast the employer is entitled to take clear words of resignation not spoken in the heat of the moment as meaning exactly what they say. So where an employee stated “I …have no alternative but to resign my position” the effect was that she brought her contract to an end that very day even though the employer had asked her to reconsider.*
The employer in asking the employee to reconsider will not be refusing the resignation. In practice the employer has no right to reject the resignation unless the employee is attempting to breach the contract of employment. So in a case where a senior employee resigned without giving their contractual period of notice the employer was able to refuse the resignation with the effect that the employment remained in place**.
Taking those general principles into account it’s interesting to see the recent news stories regarding Sepp Blatter. On 2 June it was widely reported that he had resigned as the President of FIFA, the world governing body of football, following FBI investigations into allegations of corruption.
However, recently doubts were raised on the accuracy of those reports when Mr Blatter informed a Swiss newspaper that he had not resigned. He said that had only placed himself in the hands of the FIFA congress.
Did he resign?
As in every employment case the actual words used need to be carefully considered. Looking back at what Mr Blatter was actually quoted as saying on 2 June maybe those reports that he had ‘resigned’ were a little too hasty. He in fact said that as he did not feel he had the support of all and so he had “decided to lay down (his) mandate at an extraordinary elective congress.” He did not use the words ‘resign’ or ‘resignation’. That appears to be at most giving notice of his pending resignation – subject to what happens at the FIFA congress.
In terms of employment law, giving notice of an intention to resign is pretty meaningless. If an employee tells their employer that they intend to resign, their employment will continue until such time as they do actually resign. In those circumstances employers would be well advised to ask the employee to clarify their position, especially if the intention is mentioned immediately before an investigation or disciplinary hearing. Certainly it would not be sufficient for an employer to rely on a stated intention to resign as bringing a contract of employment to an end.
*The Secretary of State for Justice v Hibbert 2013
**Sunrise Brokers LLP v Rodgers 2014