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Not easy to quit a quitter

It can be tough to cut ties with employees who quit in the heat of the moment and then change their minds — even if the employee has quit more than once

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Many employers may be amazed at what employees can do and still not have just cause for dismissal. It can be just as frustrating when it comes to what constitutes a resignation.

There have been many situations where emotions have flared at work and an employee said something to the effect of “I quit” but, afterwards, changed her mind. And in situations like that, usually the employer has to take the employee back, since it’s been well established by courts and arbitrators that resignations must be clear and unequivocal. This usually involves a written confirmation, an allowance of some “cool down time” and a look at the circumstances from a reasonable, objective point of view.

But how much does an employer have to take in order to cut ties with an employee who seems to want out? There was an arbitration case decided late last year that might add to the confusion for employers. It involved a Canada Post employee who told the corporation he quit — twice.

In December 2009, during the holiday rush, a Canada Post mail carrier got into a bit of a tiff with his supervisors over the volume of mail he was expected to sort and deliver. He got into a huff and left work. The supervisor claimed he stated that he quit, though the employee denied making that statement. A couple of days later, the employee said he wanted to come back to work and Canada Post allowed it.

But two months later, after repeated warnings about his performance and increasing frustration with his superiors, the employee said he was quitting once again. This time, Canada Post got him to write it down and allowed him some time to confer with a union representative. It checked with him again that he was “100 per cent sure,” then his keys and identification were collected and he went home.

Once again, the worker contacted his union the next day and said he wanted to rescind his resignation and come back to work. This time, Canada Post refused. But once things went to arbitration, the corporation found it wasn’t so easy to turn its back on the wayward employee.

The arbitrator found that, although the worker initially intended to quit and the corporation made sure he was aware of the consequences, the resignation couldn’t stick because of the short length of time that elapsed before he changed his mind. This indicated there was no “continuing intention to resign,” said the arbitrator.

So it appears that making sure an employee who quits is aware of the consequences and getting it in writing isn’t sufficient to cut ties. And it may not matter if the employee has done the same thing before. Should allowing an employee who quits confer with representation and write it down be enough to assume the resignation is definite? If an employee has done the same thing before when he gets frustrated — especially in a short period of time as in the case above — how many times should the employer have to put up with it before it can accept a resignation for good?

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 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.
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  • Repeat quitter takes the cake
    Wednesday, July 13, 2011 9:20:00 AM by Jeffrey R. Smith
    This is another example that shows how difficult it can be to terminate an employee without cause. Courts and arbitrators always consider the balance of power difference between an employee and the employer and usually will lean in favour of the employee. An employee has to go pretty far for there to be just cause for dismissal, apparently even farther than quitting twice.