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Beware the heat of the moment: an impulsive resignation may hurt you

6 July 2022 | Brad McDonald
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It’s inevitable that at some point at work we’ll feel angry at work. Despite modern businesses taking a much more empathising approach to mental health and wellbeing, the modern workplace can still be complex and stressful, and when added to the ongoing pressures of everyday life, people will find their blood boiling at their bosses and co-workers. In these moments it may seem satisfying to flip off your boss and dramatically exit the building like Jennifer Anniston in Office Space.

Traditionally in New Zealand, the legal view has been that employers must allow employees a cooling-off period to allow them to properly consider whether they actually want to go through with their resignation in cases like this, but a number of recent decisions by the Employment Court suggest that this approach may be changing.

In Mikes Transport Warehouse Limited and Vermuelen it was shown that resignation is a unilateral act, meaning that the employer doesn’t have to agree to it and that by waiting to acknowledge the resignation, the employer may accidentally end up dismissing the employee. That is, by giving the power to the employer as to when the employment relationship ends, the employer is unilaterally ending the relationship, not the employee.

Just because a resignation has occurred doesn't necessarily mean that everything is finished - if on review the resignation was caused by the actions of the employer, then, there may be a claim for constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal is where an employee has no choice but to resign and has a very different approach under employment law.

What should you do if an employee resigns in the heat of a moment?

That being said, if one of your employees shouts ‘I quit’ and storms out of the building you should not immediately take it for granted that they have in fact resigned, there are several tests to see whether the resignation will in fact stand.

To avoid placing yourself in further hot water, you should also ensure that you remove yourself from the heat of the moment, and calm down before acting. If the resignation has not occurred then you will still find yourself under your good faith obligations to your employee, and walking around bad-mouthing that employee to other staff members may only seek to further any claims for constructive dismissal that they may have.

In these situations, we would strongly recommend seeking out legal advice before acting, speaking to an expert removed from the situation will often help cooler heads prevail, and means that you can be sure you’re acting from a solid rational foundation, not purely on emotion and anger. Make sure you avoid emotive language and charged insults around the employee and other staff members, and ensure that you are addressing the situation constructively and productively, to achieve the best outcomes for you and all of your team.

What should you do when you’re angry at work?

It will rarely be to your advantage as an employee to dramatically throw your uniform on the ground and quit, despite how satisfying it may seem at the time.

Forbes magazine lists five ways to help you keep your cool at work:

  1. Acknowledge that you are feeling anger, don’t try and fight it
  2. Disrupt your anger by physically removing yourself from the situation
  3. Learn your triggers
  4. Choose your words carefully to deescalate, rather than escalate a situation
  5. Focus on a solution, not the problem

In these situations, it is best to step aside from the problem, take a walk around the block and talk to someone you trust, make sure you have fully thought through what your resignation will mean for you and your family before you decide to tell your boss exactly what you think of them.


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Article by:

Brad McDonald


Determined to do the best job for his clients, Brad works tirelessly to ensure best outcomes are achieved.

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