Does giving notice amount to an unambiguous act of resignation? Not necessarily, said the Employment Appeals Tribunal in East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust v Levy.
In this case, the Claimant worked as an Administrative Assistant in the Trust's records department and had received a conditional offer of a role in the Radiology Department. She therefore sent a letter saying "Please accept one month's notice from the above date".
The conditional offer was subsequently withdrawn. Ms Levy then sought to retract what she described as her 'notice of resignation'. but this was not accepted by the Respondent and her employment ended. She won her claim of unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal.
Ambiguity in the notice
The Employment Tribunal held the Claimant's notice to be ambiguous, not necessarily referable to resignation. Their conclusion was later upheld by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
As a consequence, objective analysis of how the reasonable recipient would have understood the words was required. The Tribunal was entitled to conclude that the respondent had understood the words as merely intended to signify the move from the records department to radiology, and that that was the objectively reasonable interpretation.
Notice in an employment context
Paul Burton, Head of Frettens' Employment Team, comments "Although the word 'notice' in the employment context might generally signify an unambiguous notification of termination of the contract, that was not so in the particular circumstances of this case. Here, the Claimant had an offer of a position within another department and her 'notice' could equally be taken to refer to her notification of her departure from the current department. Given the ambiguity arising from the Claimant's letter giving notice, the Employment Tribunal had correctly applied an objective test when determining how the words used would have been understood by the reasonable recipient of the letter."
The Employment Appeals Tribunal cautioned against taking account of subsequent events unless genuinely explanatory of the earlier intention.
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