Case study

A mistaken resignation

Woman having a discussion
  • Date: 14 March 2023


Factory supervisor, Ms C, handed in her keys and told a colleague: “I’m done”, before leaving her workplace. Ms C had been in an anxious state following allegations of bullying made against her by a co-worker. The employer took this as Ms C’s resignation, but an employment tribunal found this was not the case and that Ms C had been unfairly dismissed.


Ms C worked as a factory supervisor and had a good working relationship with the management. Several months ago a colleague, Mr S, resigned and alleged Ms C had bullied him. Ms C strongly denied the allegations. The factory owner tried to resolve the situation but the following week tensions remained.

At a meeting with management, Ms C threatened to resign if “things were not sorted”. The owner reassured Ms C he would find a solution.

The next day Ms C attended the office in an anxious state – exacerbated by a personal health problem – asking to speak to the owner. A colleague, Ms E, told her the boss was out of the office. At this point, Ms C handed over her keys and told Ms E: “I’m done” before leaving the workplace. Ms C was due to go on three days of annual leave, after which she submitted a sick note.

Ms C later apologised for her abrupt departure and asked to return to work. The management team informed Ms C by letter – without confirming the status of her “resignation” – that her employment had been ended.


Ms C took her case to a tribunal. The tribunal found that, while a resignation can be made orally or by conduct and does not need to be in writing, no reasonable employer could have considered Ms C’s actions to be that of a resignation.

It noted that Ms C’s words and conduct were ambiguous. For example, it was not uncommon for Ms C to hand over her keys before taking a period of annual leave. At no point did she say she was resigning or that she was not intending to return to work. Crucially, the company management did not take the “simple step” of clarifying this with her.

The tribunal determined that the company had taken the opportunity to dispense with Ms C as her previous dispute with Mr S was a “troublesome situation”. It found that the company bosses had unfairly and wrongfully dismissed Ms C. She was awarded almost £7,500 for loss of statutory rights, notice of pay and loss of earnings, alongside a basic award.


  • This case is a reminder to practices to allow employees who appear to resign in the heat of the moment a “cooling off period”, especially if there is any ambiguity in their actions.
  • It is advisable to get in touch with the employee and clarify their intentions before taking any further action or assuming the employee has resigned.
  • MDDUS members can login to their account to access a range of HR and employment resources, including factsheets and template policies/contracts.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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