Understanding verbal resignations: Legal implications and best practices

Understanding verbal resignations: Legal implications and best practices

Business, Human Resources

Author: Jenny Dowlath and Nicky Hardwick

When an employee exclaims, “I’ve had enough and I’m leaving!!” it prompts questions about whether you can accept a verbal resignation.

According to section 37(4)(a) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), terminations must typically be in writing, except for cases involving illiterate employees. However the Labour Appeal Court has expanded the scope to allow employers to accept voluntary verbal resignations, provided there is a clear and unambiguous indication of the employee’s intent.

It is however important for employers to pause and assess the situation before reacting to an employee’s verbal resignation. Formal acknowledgment of the verbal resignation is necessary for it to be binding to both parties. This acknowledgment allows for a thorough evaluation of the circumstances surrounding the resignation.

Merely uttering the words “I quit” isn’t sufficient to affect a resignation. The employee must follow up with additional actions to give substance to their words. This can include submitting a written notice or physically leaving the workplace without prior notice, providing tangible proof of their intention to resign.

Resignations must be clear and unambiguous, not dependent on external factors. Mere hearsay or office gossip about an employee’s intention to resign should not be construed as a resignation.

Once a verbal resignation is clearly communicated, the employer cannot refuse it. However once the resignation has been accepted, withdrawing the resignation requires the employer’s consent.

Employers should acknowledge verbal resignations and confirm the employee’s intentions, thereby signalling to other staff members the seriousness with which such resignations are handled.

Understanding the legal framework and best practices surrounding verbal resignations is essential for both employers and employees. By adhering to proper procedures and ensuring clarity in communication, potential disputes and misunderstandings can be avoided, fostering a fair and respectful work environment for all parties involved.

Contact one of our team today should you have any HR-related questions.