When is notice not notice?
When it is ambiguous, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal in East Kent Hospitals v Levy.
The employee worked in the records department. She had a poor sickness absence record. She applied for a role in the hospital’s radiology department, which she was offered subject to pre-employment checks. She wrote to her manager giving one month’s notice, which her manager accepted in writing.
The Radiology department retracted the offer due to the employee’s poor absence record. The employee then tried to retract her notice. The employer refused. The employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal, but the employer said she had resigned. The question was, had she?
The Employment Appeal Tribunal said the key issue was the content of the employee’s letter and what had been understood by the employer at the time. The tribunal looked objectively at what the ‘reasonable recipient’ would have understood from the letter, armed with all the background information including the employee’s expectation of an internal transfer to radiology. On receiving the letter, her manager did not take steps to recoup her excess holiday or do termination forms (which he did promptly after refusing her retraction). The EAT found that the reasonable observer would not have thought the employee was resigning from the Trust. They would have thought the employee was giving notice of her intention to accept a conditional offer of employment in radiology. The resignation had not been ‘clear and unambiguous’ and was not valid.
Employers can still (generally) refuse to accept a retraction of notice. The key is to ensure that notice has been validly given first, before refusing the retraction.