Cooling Off Periods and Retraction of Oral Resignations - Guideline Ruling

Large employers often have 'cooling off' policies in place that address the common situation of employees orally announcing their resignation in a stressful moment and subsequently having second thoughts. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, such polices, once adopted, must be honoured (Grant v Asda Stores Ltd).

The case concerned a supermarket worker who was under strain at home due to her onerous caring responsibilities for sick and elderly relatives. During an understaffed night shift, she became so stressed that she thought she was having a heart attack. She told a manager that she was resigning and would not be back.

In line with her employer's policy, she was sent a cooling off letter the following day that gave her seven days in which to change her mind before her resignation would become effective. She and her trade union representative had a number of conversations with managers thereafter but she was eventually informed that her resignation had been processed, bringing her employment to an end.

Ruling on her unfair dismissal claim, the ET found that the employer was entitled to treat her oral resignation as resulting from a rational and conscious decision on her part. The cooling off letter, however, wrongly specified a deadline that afforded her only six, rather than seven, days to retract her resignation.

In upholding her complaint, the ET found that she had a contractual right to change her mind at any time during the seven-day cooling off period. She had done so in a telephone call to her line manager on the final day before the deadline expired. By his words, the manager indicated his understanding that her resignation was being retracted. Her employer was ordered to pay her a basic award of £7,064 and a compensatory award of £6,039.