Withdrawal of resignation – must it be accepted?


Withdrawal of resignation – must it be accepted?

Is an employee entitled to withdraw a notice of resignation?

Is an employee entitled to withdraw their notice of resignation?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Last week an employee gave one month's notice of termination to his manager. The resignation was tendered because the employee had successfully gained employment elsewhere.

The employee now wants to withdraw their resignation as the job with the new employer has been made redundant by a company re-organisation. The employee has been counselled before regarding poor performance and management would rather the resignation stand.

Does the employee have a unilateral right to withdraw his resignation?

A Notice, once given by an employee, cannot be withdrawn, except with the agreement of an employer. The requirement for an employee to give the appropriate period of notice is to allow an employer sufficient time to fill a position. If an employee could withdraw notice at any time it could result in the replacement employee being left without a job, having already terminated their employment with a previous employer to accept the vacated position.

The same logic applies in the circumstance where an employer wants to withdraw notice of termination to an employee. An employer cannot unilaterally withdraw notice of termination as an employee may have already obtained employment with another employer.

If an employer could unilaterally withdraw notice, an employee could be bound by two concurrent contracts of employment. See Birrell v Australian National Airlines Commission [1984] FCA 378; 9 IR 101 / 5 FCR 447 (7 December 1984) .

An exception to this is where the mental state of an employee at the time of a resignation meant the giving of notice was not considered a voluntary act. 

Heat of the moment – unfair dismissal

Employees have claimed unfair dismissal on the grounds an employer was unreasonable in not accepting the offer of a withdrawal of notice. If the words of a resignation are unambiguous, an employer is entitled to treat them as such. However, words may be said by an employee “in the heat of the moment”, which industrial tribunals refer to as ‘special circumstances’. Where special circumstances arise it may be unreasonable for an employer to assume a resignation and accept it forthwith.

A reasonable period of time should be allowed to lapse; if circumstances arise during that period which suggest further enquiry is needed to determine if the resignation was really intended, then such inquiry is ignored at an employer’s risk. An employer runs the risk that evidence may be forthcoming which indicates that in the ‘special circumstances’ the intention to resign was not the correct interpretation when the facts are viewed objectively. See Canh K Ngo v Link Printing Pty Ltd – 771/99 N Print R7005 [1999] AIRC 57; (22 January 1999).

The bottom line: Neither an employee or an employer can unilaterally withdraw notice of termination except with the agreement of the other party.

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