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Big Z’s Big Mistake: Just Say No to Retracted Resignations

by on
in HR Soapbox

After a frustratingly bad pitching performance last week, hot-blooded Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano walked into the clubhouse, cleaned out his locker, told the staff he wanted to quit baseball and left before the game was over.

The next day, Carlos apparently looked at his most recent paycheck—he makes $18 million a year to throw a baseball—and decided he wanted to un-resign. "I did say I want to quit … I was so frustrated, that should have never come out of my mouth,” said Zambrano. The Cubs have since placed him on the 30-day “disqualified list” while deciding what to do with him.

Big Z walksThe case of Big Z, as he's called, begs the question: How would you handle an employee who tenders a resignation, then changes his or her mind the next day? Can you hold employees to their words?

Attorneys say the answer largely depends on how your organization has acted in the past with similar situations. For example, if another employee quit and was allowed to return to work, treating this employee differently could trigger a discrimination claim.

But if you have no past practices with the issue, it’s generally OK to say “no” to an employee’s attempt to rescind his or her resignation. (The issue is more complicated in a unionized setting, as in the case with the Cubs.)

Your best bet is to get any resignation in writing. At the very least, tell the departing worker you accept the resignation, then get it in writing. You can request a letter or simply ask the person to sign a form that says they’re voluntarily resigning and aren’t being fired. If the person walks out in a huff, document the exact words and get any witnesses to sign off on what they heard.

Documenting those quitting words can save you in many legal situations, plus it can cut your unemployment liability.

For example, a few years ago, an Ohio construction worker walked off the job. He phoned his boss and told him he quit. The next day, he called back to retract his resignation. The company told him to reapply. When he did, HR said his position had been filled from the inside already.

The employee filed for unemployment benefits but the company appealed. It brought in the boss, his notes from the “I quit” discussion and a co-worker who testified that the employee said he quit. That was enough for the court, which denied his benefits and, in fact, ordered the ex-employee to pay the court costs of his appeal.  (Baker v. Director of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services)

Final note: The Cubs likely won’t cut Big Z loose. He may have a 10-cent brain, but the team still needs his million-dollar arm to help it avoid having the worst record in baseball this year … again.

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