Many of us who have worked for someone other than themselves have fantasized about walking in to the office one day, handing our boss a letter of resignation, and then walking out the door (with the lyrics of The Who’s “I’m Free” playing in our heads). Some of us may have even taken the fantasy one step further and written that letter of resignation, only to leave it in a desk drawer. So what happens when an employee goes so far as to write that resignation letter, place it in an envelope addressed to their boss, and then leaves it on top of their own desk? A recent decision from the Fairfax County Circuit Court answered that question. Harvey v. Virginia Employment Commission, et. al., Case No. CL-2016-4653 (July 20, 2016).
In Harvey, Darlene Harvey worked as a bookkeeper for a Herndon accountant, Bruce Napoli, C.P.A., P.C. On March 16, 2015, she wrote a letter stating “I am resigning from my position with Bruce L. Napoli, CPA. My last day will be March 30, 2015.” She signed the letter, put it into an envelope, wrote her employer’s name on it, and left it on top of her own desk. After she left for the day, her employer found the letter. When Ms. Harvey returned to the office the next day, she found her desk cleaned off and her computer password changed. She was told her employer had accepted her resignation, and she was paid out through the end of her notice period.
When Ms. Harvey filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission, her claim was limited to two weeks of benefits under Va. Code Ann. §60.2-612 (8). That section of the Code applies when the VEC finds that an employee has “given notice of resignation to the employer,” and the employer requires the employee to leave prior to the effective date of the termination. The question before the Court was whether Ms. Harvey had “given notice of resignation” to her employer by leaving the letter on top of her own desk.
In response to a Petition for Judicial Review of a VEC decision applying the two week benefit cap, the Circuit Court found that Ms. Harvey has not given notice of resignation. “This Court cannot interpret Employer’s ‘finding’ the resignation letter as ‘giving’ notice because such an interpretation gives rise to allowing one’s presumption of another’s resignation to control whether an individual is entitled to benefits.” As a result, the Court found that Ms. Harvey was unemployed without fault on her part, and the two week cap on benefits should not apply.
The Harvey case illustrates the significance of having unequivocal evidence of an employee’s intent to resign before acting on a resignation. While this case dealt only with unemployment benefits, the same issues could arise in virtually any context where an employer tries to get rid of a problem employee by prematurely treating their actions as a resignation.