Imagine this: One day, you get into an argument with your boss and, in an impulsive decision, you decide to quit. You send out an e-mail to your whole team, including your boss, saying you’re resigning. Within minutes, your boss sends you a reply saying he accepts your resignation. But the next day, once you’ve cooled down, you realise that the problem was a very petty one and you regret acting hastily. After all, this is your dream job and the pay is great!
So you go up to your boss’ office to apologise and you tell him that you’d like to withdraw your resignation. But he declines your request, stating that you have officially resigned and have started serving your notice period. You’re in so much trouble because well, you just lost your job! You now want to know if there’s anything you can do to get your resignation—and crucially—your job back.
A resignation that has been accepted cannot be withdrawn
When you send a resignation letter, you’re basically asking for your contract with your company to be cancelled. We’re referring to the contract that your company hands you at the start of your employment. This contract is an agreement that will basically state that your company has hired you for a particular role. And once you’ve submitted the resignation and your boss has agreed to it, the contract will be cancelled and you can’t take your resignation back.
Even if you tried to withdraw it as soon as possible, it still won’t help your case. In Chong Kok Kean v Citibank Berhad , the employee, Kok Kean, had tendered his resignation on October 13th 2014. But four days later, he sent his employers, Citibank, another letter stating that he wanted to withdraw his resignation. The court decided that the resignation could not be withdrawn, even though the employee had tried to withdraw it within a short span of time.
So, we now know that once accepted, a resignation can’t be taken back. So does that mean that if your boss didn’t accept your resignation, there might be a chance for you to withdraw it?
That can get a bit complicated, because under the law, ‘acceptance’ can have a slightly different meaning.
What exactly amounts to ‘acceptance’ of a resignation?
When you send your resignation notice, you might think that only an official email or letter acknowledging it is considered as an acceptance.But what if your boss didn’t respond at all?
Interestingly, even if you don’t receive an official response, your resignation can still be considered valid and effective.
Let’s revisit the case of Chong Kok Kean v Citibank Berhad mentioned above again. In that case, the employers had not formally responded to Kok Kean’s resignation letter. However, the court decided that it didn’t matter that the employers had not responded to the resignation, as once the letter was sent in, the resignation was valid and could not be withdrawn.
But wouldn’t you need an official letter to confirm it?
Not really. See, in your employment contract, it will state what you need to do in order to resign. Typically, it will say you need to serve X months’ notice or pay the company a certain sum to the company. It would look something like this:
“… termination by either party will require one (1) month written notice or payment of one (1) month salary in lieu of notice...”
The key word here is notice. As long as you have sent your resignation in writing, that is enough to terminate the contract. Your boss doesn’t need to agree or even respond to your resignation. Once he is aware that you want to resign, that will amount to acceptance.
This requirement is also stated and in the law and it can be found in the Employment Act 1955. Section 12 states:
But despite you not being able to withdraw your resignation, there is still a chance that it could happen. That decision, though, would not be up to you. It depends on your boss.
You can keep your job… if your boss agrees
Just like how your boss has no right to prevent you from leaving once you’ve served your notice, you also have no right to prevent your boss from accepting your resignation. However, you can still keep your job IF your boss agrees to let you withdraw your resignation.
So it needs both parties to agree. In the Industrial Court case of Sime Darby Bhd (Sime Darby Plantations- Hadapan Estate) v Khalid bin Abdul Rahman & Anor , the employee had resigned due to some issues at work. He never attempted to withdraw the resignation. However, it was found that even if he did try to retract the resignation, it would not have been successful. The judge said:
So, if your boss wants to let you continue working, he can. But at the same time, he still has the right to decline your request.
Look out for what’s in your employment contract
At the end of the day, it’s really important for you to know what your employment contract says about your rights as an employee. If, for example, your contract strictly states that you are not allowed to resign for the first 6 months, then you might have a chance to withdraw your resignation before you hear from your boss. However, if there is no such term is clause in your contract, you can’t take any legal action against him because no such thing was agreed upon.
And even if you do bring your case to court, the general understanding is that your resignation can be withdrawn only if both you and your boss agree to it. So always be sure to know what your company policy is and read through your employment contract before signing on that line...as well as when signing your resignation letter.