Be Careful with Resignations: English v Manulife Financial Corporation
Ms. English began working in 2006 at Manulife. Around 2015 there Manulife decided to upgrade their computer system to a new one. As a result of the change, Ms. English decided that she would retire as she preferred not to learn the new system. Ms. English sent Mr. Ramnath, her superior, a letter stating she will retire December 31, 2016. In response, Mr. Ramnath informed her that she may rescind or reconsider the decision to retire.
The computer upgrade was halted and Ms. English informed Mr. Ramnath that she is withdrawing her notice. In response, Mr. Ramnath acknowledged the notice. Three weeks later Manulife communicated to Ms. English that they are honouring her retirement notice and therefore not allowing her to rescind it.
Ms. English filed a suit for wrongful dismissal. Both parties decided a summary judgment motion was well suited to dispense of the matter. The motion judge concluded that there was no wrongful dismissal as there was a clear and unequivocal resignation on the part of the Ms. English. He also held that Manulife did not need to demonstrate that it relied on the resignation to its detriment.
The Court of Appeal overruled the motion judge’s decision for there was equivocality in the resignation given the circumstances. Specifically, the court viewed that the notice was equivocal because of Mr. Ramnath’s informing Ms. English that she may rescind or reconsider the decision to retire.
Manulife’s decision to upgrade, which was the principal reason Ms. English decided to retire, was not carried out. Ms. English decided to withdraw her notice. The court held that Manulife was bound by Mr. Ramnath’s offer to rescind or reconsider. Given this, the facts, as the court found, did not support a clear and unequivocal resignation from Ms. English.
The court refrained from getting into the weeds of the law of resignation and what needs to happens for an employee to be successful in rescinding a resignation, notably an ‘unequivocal’ notice.
Unfortunately, the law of resignation is, to some degree, contradictory, and courts have trouble grappling with reconciling the contradictions. What we can take away from this decision is that employer must be careful in their responses to resignations. Although the employer may have stated what he said in passing, it is that response that gave the courts an excuse to hold Manulife accountable.
For the employee side, the law is on the side of the employee when it comes to resignations. The law requires the resignation to be clear and unequivocal insofar that it cannot be construed to mean anything else. Accordingly, the employer would have to prove the resignation was clear and unequivocal. This is a high bar to meet.