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When is a resignation letter not a resignation letter?

October 1, 2018
Employment Law

The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently had to wrestle with the question of whether the words “please accept one month's notice from the above date” amount to a resignation or not.  You might assume the answer is a straightforward ‘yes’.  However, the facts of the case (East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust v Levy) suggested otherwise.

The facts

Ms Levy worked in the NHS trust’s Records Department.  However, she was unhappy in her job and applied to transfer to a new role in Radiology.  She received a conditional offer, which was subject to some pre-appointment checks.  After further problems at work, she gave her boss a letter in which stated: “please accept one month's notice from the above date”.  Her line manager acknowledged receipt of her letter, but otherwise made no arrangements for the termination of her employment.

About a week later, the offer of a role in the Radiology Department was withdrawn, due to concerns regarding Ms L’s sickness record.  She promptly sought to withdraw her notice, but her line manager refused.  He then issued her with a letter confirming the termination of her employment at the end of her notice period.

The question arose as to whether Ms L’s letter amounted to notice of resignation from her employment or merely notice of her intention to leave the Records Department to take up a role in Radiology.  

The decision

An Employment Tribunal concluded that the trust had effectively dismissed Ms L.  The trust appealed.  The Employment Appeal Tribunal reflected on the situation and considered whether the notice letter could be said to be a ‘clear and unambiguous’ resignation, as the trust had argued.  The EAT agreed with the Employment Tribunal and found that there was genuine ambiguity as to what the letter actually meant.  However, given the particular circumstances of the case, it was reasonable for the ET to conclude that the letter was simply notice of Ms L’s intention to transfer to the Radiology Department; it was not a letter of resignation.  

What does this mean?

This case reminds us of the importance of thinking carefully about what words actually mean.  One wonders whether this was a rather opportunistic attempt to take advantage of the situation and bring Ms Levy’s employment to an end.  The ET certainly felt able to conclude that, viewed objectively, she was not resigning; she was merely indicating her intention to transfer to a different department as soon as possible. Given the circumstances, the trust would have been bettered advised to clarify the meaning of her letter and then act accordingly!

If you need a second opinion on an issue of this nature, please get in touch.

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