Once An Employee Has Verbally Resigned, Should You Require the Employee to Submit a Written Letter of Resignation?

It is not uncommon for human resources professionals to receive a verbal resignation from an employee or to be informed by a manager that an employee has stated that he or she is resigning their employment.  In many instances, these verbal resignations occur in the heat of the moment, such as in the midst of a performance-based counseling or while facing the prospect of discipline for misconduct.  The knee-jerk reaction of many managers and HR personnel is to inform the employee that they require the employee to submit his or her resignation in writing.  Although it is certainly legally permissible to request a resignation in writing, it is not always advisable to do so.

By requesting a resignation in writing, you will have conveyed to the employee that the company has not yet accepted the resignation.  As a result, the employee could elect to change his or her mind and, thereby, rescind the resignation.  This often occurs when the employee “cools down” and then speaks with a lawyer or friend who advises them that a resignation will likely prevent collecting unemployment compensation benefits or may affect other claims they might have against the employer.

Unfortunately, once the employee rescinds the verbal notice of resignation, a strong argument exists that the resignation that was offered can no longer be accepted by the employer.  To avoid this situation, employers are well advised to immediately verbally accept the employee’s resignation and then to very quickly follow-up the acceptance with either an email or letter to the employee stating as follows:

“I am writing on behalf of the company to confirm that the company has accepted your voluntary resignation from employment effective today.  Thank you for your service to the company.  We wish you every success in your future endeavors.”

Once the resignation has been accepted, the employee will have a difficult time attempting to rescind the resignation or claiming that the employer misunderstood his verbal statement that he had resigned.

Acceptance of the resignation should also be confirmed through standard end-of-employment processing, such as shutting off systems access to the employee, recovering keys and/or badges, and assisting the employee with exiting the workplace following gathering of personal belongings.  Because the employment termination stems from a resignation, the employer may process final wages and payment for any accrued and unused vacation through normal payroll processing.

About Bob Kilroy

Bob is a partner, member of the firm’s Management Committee and former chair of the firm's Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group, where he specializes in employment litigation in defense of corporations and their executives. He routinely appears in federal and state courts throughout New England and beyond, as well as before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Civil Service Commission in defense of claims of discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, breach of contract, and wage payment violations. Bob also has extensive experience in both defense and enforcement of non-compete agreements. In addition, he represents management for both governmental and private-sector employers in grievance arbitrations filed by unions, with particular emphasis on the health care industry. Apart from his employment litigation practice, Bob advises clients on a broad range of employment and human resource-related issues.
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