Stating "I quit" doesn’t always make it so

Date: 2010
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro

Employers can’t ignore the warning signs

Upset after a meeting with her boss, Joey Bru said she was quitting. Believing that she had done just that, Bru’s employer replaced her. But, according to a British Columbia judge, even when employees say they are leaving, they may not have actually quit.
59 year old Bru worked as a Deli Clerk for two and a half years at the Kelowna, B.C., based Mediterranean Market. Tensions ran high at the fast paced deli counter and Bru and her colleagues often quarrelled.
Having butted heads with a co worker on several occasions, Bru was summoned to a meeting by her boss, Cindy Morton, before her shift started in order to try to clear the air. Although the meeting went smoothly, Bru became annoyed and left the Market to go home. She later telephoned in to say that she wouldn’t be able to work that day.
Before her next shift, Bru called Morton and in a short conversation told her that she couldn’t take it any longer and that she was quitting. Believing the matter was finished, Morton never asked if Bru was sure she wanted to quit or if she was only voicing her frustration. She simply accepted Bru’s statement and moved on.
The next day, Bru called Morton again to enquire whether she still had a job but was left with the impression she had already been replaced.
Bru later sued for wrongful dismissal stating that she had not quit. Rather, she argued that by interpreting her actions a resignation, the Market had actually dismissed her.
Justice Neill Brown of the British Columbia Supreme Court accepted Bru’s arguments that she had not truly intended to resign but was in an emotional state of upset when she said the words “I quit”.
In finding that Bru had been wrongfully dismissed, he found that the Market failed to consider the surrounding circumstances and instead relied on the pure black letter transcript of what Bru had stated. Morton knew that Bru had been stressed and that it was out of character for her to simply resign. This should have raised a red flag as to whether Bru had unequivocally meant to leave.
Employers can’t ignore the warning signs where an employee blurts out that she no longer wishes to work. By simply accepting what Bru said and moving on, without more, the Market ended the relationship, not Bru.
Where an employee’ resignation is disputed, consider the following questions:

  • Is an impulsive resignation out of character for the employee? Or are there any personal circumstances potentially clouding the employee’s decision.
  • Has the employee been asked to take some time to reflect on the situation and confirm his or her intentions in writing?
  • Did the employee make conflicting statements or demonstrate an intention to continue to work, such as showing up at work the next day or did she evince a clear intention to leave, such as saying goodbye to others?
  • Has the employer acted in good faith in accepting the purported resignation or was its acceptance simply an easier way to rid itself of that employee?