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Contentious Resignations: Ten Top Tips for Employers

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Resignations aren’t always a smooth process. On occasion, employees may quit on the spot, refuse to comply with regulations, cause drama, or even spread false information that may harm your business. These types of resignations are what we would consider contentious resignations, and they need to be handled with extraordinary care. As an employer, you’ll need to take specific steps to ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible. So today, we’ll share ten top tips to help you deal with such situations.

What Steps Can Employers Take to Deal With Contentious Resignations?

1. Be Prepared

Before you receive a resignation letter, it’s necessary to have clear policies and procedures in place to handle the advent of a sudden “I quit” situation. This should include guidelines on how to accept and process resignation letters, and how to deal with disciplinary issues or complaints from employees. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that your team understands the policies and procedures and are fully trained in following them to avoid confusion.

2. Keep Calm and Professional, and be Wary of Ambiguity

It’s natural to feel upset or angry when an employee resigns in a contentious manner; however, it’s also key to stay calm, cool, collected and professional. Losing your temper or reacting emotionally can cause even more problems and escalate the situation, making it harder still to resolve. Take some time to disassociate yourself from the situation, and only have a conversation with the employee when you’re in a rational, reasoned frame of mind. An absolutely essential factor in this is to try to be understanding of their perspective, even if you don’t agree.

Similarly, you should always take great care in the choice of words used, both from yourself and your staff. For instance, a heat-of-the-moment shout of ‘I’m done!’ from the employee or ‘get out!’ from you as an employer might not necessarily be a termination of employment, but instead a thing said at a time of high stress. Ambiguous words or phrases like these can lead to claims of unfair dismissal if misconstrued.

For employees who seem to quite on the spot, allow for a ‘cooling-off’ period of a couple of days to determine the true nature of the situation before complications arise, even if their language is unambiguous.

For employers, it is pertinent to withdraw anything that can be construed as a dismissal as soon as possible if it isn’t truly your intention, again to minimize the risk of unfair dismissals claims and employment tribunals.

3. Review your Contracts

When contentious resignations occur, it’s important to review your contracts and policies to ensure that you’re in compliance. If the employee is violating the terms of their contract, you’ll need to take the appropriate action and enforce the contract’s conditions. This action could include anything from disciplinary action, urging the employee to fulfil their notice period, or even legal proceedings. Always refer to the employment contract and seek counsel as and when necessary.

4. Investigate and Document the Situation

In a great many circumstances, it will be necessary to investigate and document the employee’s behaviour leading up to their resignation. You will need to gather evidence from your staff and any third-party individuals who are involved; accurate records and detailed documentation could make a significant difference in any potential legal proceedings or employment tribunals. When you handle contentious resignations, it’s critical to ensure that you have a paper trail to protect yourself and your business.

5. Monitor Social Media

Social media can cause havoc for a business with a disgruntled employee. To limit any negative impact, you should always monitor social media channels for any negative comments about your organisation. You can use social media monitoring tools that will notify you if someone mentions your company on social media – if you do find any negative comments, it’s best to respond professionally and calmly without getting into an argument or involved in any pettiness.

6. Communicate Clearly

Clear and comprehensive communication with the departing employee is a must. You’ll need to make sure you know their explicit reasons for resigning and what they expect from your company. After you understand their concerns, you can try and address them to ensure a smoother exit. When communicating to the employee, always convey compassion, empathy and a sense of decorum. It’s vital to be clear in your communications to avoid misunderstandings which could adversely impact your business reputation.

7. Consult with a Professional

Contentious resignations and their aftermath can have legal repercussions in the forms of claims and, potentially, employment tribunals. It’s key to consult with HR or legal professionals to ensure that you are taking the right steps and avoid any complications that may arise from such a situation. These professionals can advise you on topics such as employment law and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to help you navigate this tricky process.

8. Conduct an Exit Interview

Where possible, ensure that the departing employee has an opportunity for a formal exit interview. This provides a chance for the organisation to learn from the employee’s experience and understand the reasons behind the resignation, including any complaints or grievances they may have. Additionally, the employee will appreciate an opportunity to provide feedback and give them closure on their time with the company.

9. Protect Your Business

During the exit process, it’s critical to protect your business’s interests and reputation. If an employee is part of a sensitive or critical area of your company, they could cause damage to your business if they leave with confidential information or try to sabotage your efforts. Therefore, it’s crucial to have specific protocols in place for when a staff member leaves to minimise these risks. Make sure you have the right provisions in place to protect your business and its integrity.

10. Reassess and Review

The final step is to ensure that you learn what you can from the situation. Take time to consider what went wrong in the first place, what reasonable adjustments your business can make and how you might prefer to have the process go in future.


When dealing with contentious resignations, it’s essential to remain rational in all aspects: from having the policies and procedures that ensure a steady foundation, to your general conduct throughout, all the way to the exit process.

By following the above top tips during contentious resignation processes, you can minimise disruption to your team and safeguard your business’s reputation.

For further advice and tips, why not get in touch with HR:4UK’s dedicated team of award-winning professionals, who boast decades of experience in dealing with contentious resignations – and much more.

Call 01455 444 222 or email [email protected] to start your journey today.

James Dawson

James is our resident wordsmith and has many years of experience in writing about a huge variety of topics from HR to Occupational Health and beyond. He has been published in numerous magazines and news outlets, and especially enjoys researching and analysing the current trends in the modern business world.