“I don’t think I want to work here anymore.” “I’m going to find another job.” “Maybe I’ll just have to quit.” The “fuzzy resignation” is not a summertime cocktail, but a common problem for employers when such statements are made verbally or in emails. Often, employers miss the opportunity to sever a problem employee by failing to take action on these statements. Another common error is to terminate without written documentation of the resignation, leading to disputes over the employee’s status.
Whether the employee voluntarily quit or was involuntarily fired can be a critical distinction in an administrative agency proceeding, such as unemployment insurance, or a lawsuit alleging discrimination or wrongful termination. When it is unclear whether an employee is quitting, the employer needs to take the following steps to bring clarity and resolve the employee’s status:
Accept the resignation
Usually, employees make unclear statements about resigning when they’re upset about something. If the employer waits before accepting the resignation, the employee is likely to have changed his or her mind and will deny ever intending to quit. An immediate statement that the company accepts the resignation is more likely to push the employee to unequivocally quit in the heat of the moment – eliminating the ambiguity and freeing the company from a problem employee.
Bring in a witness
Once an employee makes a statement possibly indicating a desire to quit, another supervisor or manager should be brought into the conversation so they can attest to the acceptance of the resignation and any further statements by the employee.
Address the “third party” resignation
If a co-worker reports that the employee said he or she was quitting, it would not be appropriate to accept a hearsay resignation. Instead, immediately approach the employee (with a witness) and ask if they intend to quit. You don’t need to share that their conversation was reported, or who reported it – a direct, simple inquiry will suffice. If they confirm their intent, accept the resignation.
Get a written statement
Nothing fancy is required, just a brief, unequivocal statement that the employee is resigning his or her employment, dated and signed by the employee. Get the employee to write it out on the spot and sign it before they have a chance to reconsider.
Confirm the resignation in writing
This should be done in every circumstance, but is especially important if a written resignation cannot be obtained. The written notice to the employee should affirm that the company has accepted the resignation, state the last day of employment, and describe arrangements for payment of the final paycheck. This should be transmitted to the employee as soon as possible – delay allows the employee to backslide and opens the door to further ambiguity.