This was the question asked in English v. Manulife Financial Corporation, 2018 ONSC 5135 (English).
In this case, English, a 66-year-old employee decided to retired when her employer, Manulife Financial Corporation, announced in 2015 that they would be converting their technology and employees would be required to learn a new system. She made this decision on her own and voluntarily. English presented her resignation letter to her boss on September 22, 2016, which stated that she would retire, effective December 31, 2016.
When presented with her resignation letter, English’s boss asked her if she was sure about resigning. He also told her that if she changed her mind she could take back her resignation. English left the meeting with the impression that she could change her mind about her decision.
On October 11, 2016, Manulife announced that it was suspending the technology conversion. This announcement did change English’s mind about retirement. She verbally told her boss that she wished to rescind her notice of retirement. Her boss said nothing in response.
Meanwhile, Manulife had started to take steps to eliminate English’s position. On November 5, 2016, Manulife confirmed in writing that it accepted English’s notice of retirement. English worked until December 12, 2016, when she was told she no longer needed to come back. English was not provided with any notice pay. She then sued Manulife for wrongful dismissal.
The Tribunal Decision
A resignation must be clear and unequivocal. It must objectively look like the person intends to resign or has resigned. In this case, the court found that English’s retirement letter did provide a clear and unequivocal intention to resign. The question was, could she take it back? Her boss had said so but the court said no.
Manulife accepted English’s retirement. When English stated that she wished to take back her intention to retire, Manulife did not confirm that it would allow her to do so.
Using contract law principles, the court found that while English’s offer to retire had been accepted by Manulife, her later offer to rescind her retirement was not. Her offer to retire and its acceptance by Manulife created a binding contract. English could not decide to not hold up her end of the bargain.
Previous decisions have held that an employee can rescind their notice of resignation as long as the employer has not relied upon it to their detriment. This case rejected that approach, instead relying on contract law principles. Once an offer has been accepted, a contract is formed and it is not open to the employee to rescind his or her notice of resignation once it had been accepted.
If an employee resigns confirm that their resignation is accepted IN WRITING! This will protect you if the employee later decides that they want to take it back.
Read my Top Tips to Dealing With a Voluntary Resignation and download my Template Letter confirming your acceptance of a resignation.