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‘Remember when I quit a while back? I didn’t mean it’

A resignation can be rescinded — even months later — if the employee wasn’t in the right frame of mind

By Jeffrey R. Smith

I’ve discussed in the past about how it’s not always easy to determine whether an employee has actually quit her job.

There has to be a clear resignation – it’s always a good idea to get it in writing – and the case law out there shows that no matter how definite an employee seems when she says she quits, the employer must double check and give the employee a chance to cool off and reconsider.

This allows the employee to avoid any rash decisions made in the heat of the moment, though it can be an inconvenience to the employer. However, it seems even if the employee seems rational and confirms the resignation, it still may not be a final decision.

A couple of years ago, an employee for the Alberta Department of Justice was suffering from depression and feeling stressed over work, which was causing some difficulties with her performance. Finally, after she was called onto the carpet for not doing a job she was assigned, facing the anger of her director, she decided she couldn’t do it anymore and wrote up a letter of resignation.

The director asked her if she was sure and agreed the job possibly wasn’t for her. A few days later, the employee emailed her supervisor and explained that she thought things had gotten to the point where she was going to be fired and her mental illness was preventing her from doing her job.

However, after spending a few months dealing with her depression, the employee decided she didn’t really want to quit and asked to rescind her resignation. The employer declined, saying it had accepted the resignation in good faith and couldn’t hold jobs open indefinitely in case someone who quit changed her mind. However, an arbitrator found the resignation was not accepted in good faith because the employer was aware the employee suffered from depression. The supervisor was also aware the employee had been under the impression she was going to be fired, which was a factor in the employee’s decision to quit.

So if an employee decides to quit her job, part of the employer’s duty is to ensure there aren’t any factors that could be pushing the employee towards unwillingly making the decision. In particular, if the employer is aware of any mental health issues, the resignation might not be valid, even if the employee seems clear-headed and later confirms the decision. The employer might think it’s giving the employee a chance to think it through, but it might later be proven to be no good.

But in circumstances such as the case above, is it fair for an employer to be expected to make room for the employee if months have passed and the employer has moved on? Should there be a time limit on an employee wanting to rescind a resignation, regardless of what prompted it?

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

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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.
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