When does an employee saying they “resign, effective immediately” not mean they want their resignation to be “effective immediately”?

That was the question answered recently by the Employment Relations Authority when it upheld a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage following an employee resigning “effective immediately”.  The employee was going to a competitor, so when they put in their resignation they expected to be marched out the door immediately and that was what happened.  The employer claimed that they understood the employee’s written resignation which said it was “effective immediately” to mean just that i.e. they were finishing there and then.  No mention was made of what date they would finish and the employer never asked the employee for clarification that they were finishing that day.

After being marched out the employee sought to be paid out their notice period.  The employer refused on the basis that they had resigned “effective immediately” and had not given the required four weeks’ notice.

The Employment Relations Authority held that the employee never intended to resign without giving the required four weeks’ notice and that if the employer had asked they would have discovered that.

The ERA awarded lost wages of $1,600 plus $3,500 for the hurt and humiliation suffered by the employee because the employer had misunderstood the “effective immediately” to be “effective immediately” and did not ask the employee if that is what they meant.  The employer is also liable to pay the employee costs as well for the hearing.

So the lesson to be learned is that, if an employee says something, it pays to check to confirm they actually mean what they say before taking it at face value.  A failure to do so can be expensive.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer