“I Quit!” Does Not Always Mean “I Quit”

By Colin Edstrom
Categories: Blog, Employment Law

Employees who voluntarily resign from their employment cannot successfully sue their employers for wrongful dismissal. This, of course, makes sense because it was the employees’ decision to end the employment relationship. The phrase “I quit” is generally a good indication of an employee’s intention to resign. However, employers must not rush to affirm the resignation as doing so could result in a court finding that the employee did not resign but was wrongfully dismissed.

In Bishop v. Rexel Canada Electrical Inc., 2016 BCSC 2351, an employee sent an email to his supervisor advising that he “would not be returning” to work if his supervisor continued to add to his job responsibilities. The employee was angry and upset at the time he sent the email. He felt overburdened at work and previously protested his increasing workload. Upon receiving the email, the supervisor phoned the employee and “confirmed” the employee’s intention to resign. The employee later retracted the resignation stating that it was not his intention to resign and sued his employer for wrongful dismissal. The Court agreed with the employee, finding that the employer hastily rushed to confirm the resignation. It used the apparent resignation as a convenient excuse to get rid of a disgruntled employee. As the employee had not actually resigned, the employer’s actions amounted to a wrongful dismissal. The employee was awarded 20 months’ pay in lieu of reasonable notice.

A resignation must be clear and unequivocal. As stated by our Court of Appeal in Beggs v. Westport Foods Ltd., 2011 BCCA 76, a finding of resignation involves a two-part analysis:

  1. Did the employee intend to resign?; and
  2. Did the employee’s words and acts, objectively viewed, support a finding that he or she resigned?

The court will take into account an employee’s state of mind at the time of resignation. If a resignation occurs during a heated exchange, an employer has a duty to revisit the purported resignation after a cooling off period to gauge the employee’s true intention. This principle was summarized in Lelievre v. Commerce and Industry Insurance Company of Canada, 2007 BCSC 253:

… the law is clear that where an emotionally upset and angry employee exclaims “I quit”, the issue of whether he/she has resigned is not clear cut. The law recognizes that such utterances may not constitute a valid resignation. Nor should such a declaration be accepted without question by the employer. Rather the onus is on the employer to not accept such a spontaneous declaration without proper deliberation…

In many cases, an employee’s intention to resign will be obvious. But not all cases are straightforward, particularly where the resignation results from an outburst or argument. In such circumstances, employers are wise to treat a resignation cautiously and reassess the employee’s intention once cooler heads have prevailed.