What Constitutes a Resignation?

Monday 24th April 2023

Whilst an employer is entitled to accept an employee’s resignation when it is clear and unambiguous, it is recognised by the Employment Tribunal (ET) that there may be some situations where intention must be investigated, for example where a resignation is made ‘in the heat of the moment’.

It was recently decided by an ET that the use of the words “I’m done” when an employee handed her keys over to her employer was not to be treated as a resignation in the case of Cope v Razzle Dazzle Costumes Ltd.


Cope worked on the factory floor of the Respondent where she fell out with one of her co-workers who had accused her of bullying. Cope denied the allegations and said that if she had to work with the co-worker moving forwards that she would go on sick leave. The Respondent in this matter advised Cope that she should behave professionally to which Cope responded by requesting a meeting to discuss the situation, stating she would resign if things were not sorted out.

The following day, Cope requested a meeting with one of the owners of the Respondent but was told she out of the office attending a medical appointment. Later that day, Cope tried again to speak with the owner and was again told she was not yet back in work. Cope then left her factory keys and said “I’m done” before walking out of the building.

The colleague present at the time informed the owners of the situation who interpreted it as Cope’s resignation, refusing to speak with Cope to clarify the situation despite her attempts to speak with them. Cope submitted a two-week sick note for ‘stress and anxiety’ which was refused by the owners who said they had accepted her resignation. Cope brought claims of unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal against the Respondent.


Both of Cope’s claims were successful as the ET held that no reasonable employer would have perceived Cope’s actions to be an unambiguous resignation in the circumstances. It took place whilst she was in a highly anxious state. Furthermore, her actions that followed, such as submitting a sick note, were not those of someone who had resigned.


Whilst a resignation can be in the form of words or conduct, clarification should always be sought from an employee in relation to their intentions if there is any doubt as to whether they have resigned. The best practice, especially in a situation where an employee resigns in the ‘heat of the moment’ is to write to them to ask them to confirm in writing whether they wanted to resign and give them a deadline of a day or two to respond. However, where a resignation is clear and unambiguous, employers are safe to accept the resignation.

Want advice about resignations you’ve received from your employees? Please get in touch with a member of the team who will be happy to help.