Keeping it legal.
What happens if a resignation letter contains some criticism of the employer? Is the employer obliged to invite the employee to a meeting to discuss it?
The short answer is, it depends. A number of recent tribunal decisions have held that a written grievance can be contained in a resignation letter. If so, the employer is under an obligation to invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the grievance and provide a right of appeal if the employee is dissatisfied with the outcome.
Where the employer fails to comply with the procedure, and the employee later brings a successful employment tribunal claim relating to the issues raised in the grievance, there will be an uplift in any compensation awarded of 10% to 50%.
The law does not define what amounts to a grievance letter, other than to say it is irrelevant whether the purported grievance letter deals with any other matter. Recent cases have held that there is no requirement for the employee to comply with the employer's grievance procedure, provided the grievance is in writing. There is also no need for a resignation letter:
(i) to set out the exact nature of the complaint, provided the employer can understand the general nature of the complaint.
or (ii) to state that the employee wishes the complaint to be treated as a grievance or that the complaint may go further.
Where it is unclear whether the employee is seeking to raise a grievance in his resignation letter (regardless of whether the letter raises issues which have been discussed previously with the employee), it would be prudent to seek clarification from the employee as to whether they wish the letter to be treated as raising a grievance.
The employee's response should be recorded and the proper procedures followed where necessary. Employers must be very wary and err on the side of caution as it appears that the threshold for triggering the grievance procedure is set very low.
Laura Daniels is a solicitor at Dickinson Dees