Publisher's Desk|Canadian HR Law|HR Policies & Practices|Employment Law|The C-Suite|HR Guest Blog

Resignations: Did she jump or was she pushed?

Does laying on a guilt trip make an employer responsible for an employee quitting?

By Jeffrey R. Smith

In the employment relationship, the employer almost always has the advantage in the balance of power. Courts and arbitrators recognize this and will usually take this perspective when looking at the facts in the case. This balance of power could play a role in determining influences on employee actions and decisions. But how much influence should the employer be responsible for?

Employee resignations is one area that can fall under scrutiny if an employee changes her mind after saying she quit. Though quitting is ultimately the employee’s decision, it might not be the end of it if an employer is seen to have played a role in influencing that decision.

A couple of years ago, a Saskatchewan social worker missed a lot of work because of injuries suffered in two car accidents. She had a lot of pain and eventually had to have her gall bladder removed. As a result, she often had to take medical leave. When she called her supervisor to make arrangements for her return to work, the supervisor made some comments about whether it was the right position for her and that her clients were suffering because of her absences. This distressed the social worker, who thought about it for a few days and decided to tender her resignation.

However, after consulting family and friends, the social worker changed her mind and asked her employer to rescind the resignation. The employer refused to allow her back but told her it would consider her for a new position. Ultimately, an arbitration board found the supervisor’s remarks put a guilt trip on the worker that influenced her decision to quit, which wasn’t her original intention when she called to arrange her return to work. The refusal to rescind her resignation was essentially a termination of employment that amounted to a wrongful dismissal, said the board.

So how much should the employer be responsible in this case? Was the supervisor simply being candid or should he have kept his opinion to himself? Though the employee felt guilty about her absences after her conversation with the supervisor, the decision to quit was still ultimately hers.

Different people are affected in different ways by feelings of guilt and some employees in a similar situation might feel guilty and some might not. If an employee resigns for whatever reason and later changes her mind, how much obligation does the employer have to bring her back? How much does the balance of power come into play in affecting an individual’s decision to quit?

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at employment law from a business perspective. He can be reached at For more information, visit

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
(Required, will not be published)
All comments are moderated and usually appear within 24 hours of posting. Email address will not be published.