When Jantsje Beggs’ mobile home was destroyed by a fire, she did not think this would also cost her a job. Beggs had not been formally terminated, and she assumed she had not resigned either. Her employer assumed otherwise.
Beggs, a grocery store clerk for Westport Foods on Vancouver Island, called her boss the day after the fire explaining that she could not come in as scheduled and did not know when she would return.
Beggs’ phone was disconnected, and when her manager could not contact her for almost a month, a record of employment was prepared claiming that Beggs resigned. When Beggs later came by the store to retrieve it and drop off a doctor’s note explaining her absence, she was shocked to learn Westport viewed her as having resigned.
Instead of speaking with her employer, Beggs hired a lawyer who accused Westport of firing her in an insensitive manner, referring to the medical evidence that the company had not yet been aware of. In response, Westport maintained that Beggs had resigned.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal recently sided with Beggs. It found that before the lawyers were involved, there was a genuine misunderstanding on Westport’s part of Beggs’ intentions and the reasons for her absence from work. However, when Westport’s lawyer maintained that Beggs had quit her job, despite seeing medical evidence showing that she was ill, Westport effectively fired her, ruled the court, even though it had not intended to.
Seldom do sincerity and intentions sway judicial favour in a lawsuit. Often the courts focus on what did, or did not, occur. Here, Beggs found herself in a twilight zone somewhere between having abandoned her job and having been fired. Although she won her case, by following these simple steps, the confusion could have been avoided:
- Immediately protest a characterization that there has been a resignation if you didn’t intend to resign.
- Resist taking any steps that can be construed as voluntarily withdrawing from the workplace, as difficult as that may be.
- If uncertain, request that your options be outlined in writing and seek specialized advice before taking any action.
Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @danlublin.