Quitting is a normal part of any employment relationship.  Any employee contemplating doing so will have hopefully made the right decision without feeling the sting of regret.   Regret is a common consideration as resignations will often prompt questions related to “are you sure about this?” from an employer, and it turns out the response to that question could be critical.

At law a resignation must be ‘clear and unequivocal’ in consideration of all the contextual factors surrounding the resignation.  This would make most employers feel confident that a resignation given in writing would be firm and enforceable.  But a recent case from the Ontario Court of Appeal draws some uncertainty into such a situation.

This case involved an employee who, upon learning that her employer would implement a new computer software, made a decision to take an early retirement rather than undergo the learning process of a new computer software.  She submitted her written notice of retirement to her manager and indicated that her primary reason for early retirement was the implementation of the new computer software. Furthermore, her manager expressed an opportunity for her to reconsider and rescind her retirement if she decided to do so.  Shortly thereafter the employee’s retirement was announced to the office. 

The employer’s plans eventually changed when, prior to the employee’s effective final day of work, the employer decided not to proceed with the implementation of a new computer software.  As a result the employee decided to rescind her notice of resignation and, despite the previous verbal acknowledgment that she could reconsider, the response from the employer was that her retirement would be final. 

The employee commenced an action for wrongful dismissal and, on an appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal, was found to have not rendered a “clear and unequivocal” resignation.  The Court of Appeal made this finding based on the consideration that her resignation was clearly premised on the implementation of the new computer software as well the discussions between the employee and her manager in which she was given an opportunity to reconsider retirement.  The Court of Appeal concluded that the employee had rescinded her retirement notice and as a result was wrongfully terminated, with entitlement to damages.

This case serves as a valuable lesson for employers seeking to rely on a written resignation to determine that a resignation was ‘clear and unequivocal’.  Employer’s should take caution to investigate the contextual circumstances to a resignation before taking the position that a resignation is firm and enforceable. 

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Citation: English v. Manulife Financial Corporation, 2019 ONCA 612.

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