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Understanding Heat of the Moment Resignations: A Guide for Employers

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The workplace is often a hub of high pressure and intense interactions, where conflicts among staff can escalate quickly. In such a tense atmosphere, how should an employer react when an employee, caught in a contentious exchange with their manager, impulsively resigns, only to withdraw their resignation shortly after?

‘Heat of the moment’ resignations is a hot topic in our Employment Appeal Tribunals, so let’s delve a little deeper to see what lessons can be learned.

What is a Heat of the Moment Resignation?

A heat of the moment resignation refers to an employee’s impulsive decision to resign. This can happen often during a period of stress or conflict. This typically happens without prior notice or consideration of the consequences. While it’s an emotional reaction, it carries significant legal, professional, and personal implications for both the employer and the employee.

Legal Framework in the UK

Generally, a resigned employee can’t retract their resignation unless the employer consents. However, if a resignation occurs in a heated moment, like during an argument or a contentious disciplinary hearing, the employer should allow the employee to reconsider if they promptly change their mind after calming down.

Under UK law, an impulsive resignation should not always be considered final. Employees may retract their resignation if they do so quickly and the employer hasn’t yet formally accepted it. However, the legal stance is nuanced and depends on the circumstances surrounding the resignation and any subsequent actions by both parties.

To accept or not to accept?

Employers should be cautions of accepting resignations made in the heat of the moment and allow the employee time to cool off and reconsider their decision.

Avoid immediately accepting a resignation if it seems impulsive. If the employee doesn’t retract it within a reasonable amount of time, employers can safely accept it. The longer the delay, the more it suggests a genuine change of heart rather than an impulsive decision.

If an employee retracts their resignation, employers should assess if it was truly intended. They should objectively evaluate the resignation’s context, focusing on the employee’s actual words and the employer’s understanding of them, from a reasonable bystander’s perspective.

What must also be apparent by the reasonable bystander is that the words of resignation were intended to have immediate effect and not an expression of an intent to resign at some point in the future.

It must be apparent to the reasonable bystander that the employee genuinely intended to resign and they were in the right mind when they did so.

Determining the genuine intent behind the words of resignation should be based on the circumstances at the moment they were spoken. Subsequent events can shed light on the employee’s true intentions at the time of resigning. Such evidence might reveal that the resignation was made without real intent.  In these circumstances, the resignation should not be considered valid. Conversely, it might show that the resignation was sincere, but the employee later regretted the decision. In this case, the resignation would remain valid.

Circumstances that could indicate a resignation wasn’t genuinely intended might include scenarios where the employee is visibly upset, acting uncharacteristically, dealing with a significant mental impairment, demonstrating immaturity, or experiencing intense pressure from another individual. However, it’s important to note that these factors alone don’t conclusively determine that the employee didn’t mean to resign.

Best Practices for Employers

When a resignation is delivered in a composed and deliberate manner, absent of immediate provocation or distress, employers can generally accept it as genuine. Conversely, if an employee hastily resigns during a moment of stress, such as following a dispute with a colleague or manager; in the midst of disciplinary action, or after a denied request for flexible working, employers should take a moment to consider the resignation’s validity.

In such instances, the line manager who receives the resignation should document exactly what was said and their interpretation of it. Employers might also gather accounts from any witnesses to the resignation. Sometimes, the most prudent approach is to encourage the employee to take a period to reconsider, suggesting they submit a formal written resignation if they decide to proceed.

If an employee attempts to withdraw a spur-of-the-moment resignation, employers should feel obligated to but should seek further advice as needed. Even if a resignation is deemed invalid, employers may still have grounds to terminate employment based on the employee’s behaviour related to the resignation episode, such as making repeated threats to quit or displaying unprofessional conduct towards their line manager.


Heat of the moment resignations are challenging for everyone involved. They disrupt business operations and can have lasting effects on an employee’s career. Both parties must handle these situations delicately and legally. Employees should consider the full implications before making such a drastic decision, while employers should strive to create an open and supportive environment that can help prevent such situations from arising. With careful consideration and appropriate actions, both parties can navigate these turbulent situations effectively.

For assistance and advice on all of the above, HR:4UK has you covered. Get in touch with us today on 01455 444 222 or email [email protected]

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.

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