“Can an employee rescind a resignation?”

Question: I have resigned my position to move to another state. A few days ago, I found out that I have cancer. My current employer’s health benefits are much better than the health benefits offered by the employer who has hired me where I am moving to.

Can I rescind my resignation to maintain the better health benefits and use my accrued sick time while working as much as I can through the treatment. I would still plan on eventually moving because my husband has already moved.

Dolores K.
Kokomo, Indiana 

Answer: Dear Dolores: I am so very sorry to hear of your illness. You’re surely in a difficult spot, on several grounds. While it is often difficult to rescind a resignation, many of my clients have done so successfully. As you will see from my explanation, success in doing so requires a degree of “negotiation” using the facts and circumstances of your own work life and personal life. Let me try to best explain your options:

1. Whether you can rescind a resignation depends, first, on whether you have any kind of contract or agreement with your employer. A contract (or agreement, which are the same thing) represents the agreed-upon rules of a relation. If you have any kind of employment contract – such as an employment agreement, a union contract, a Civil Service position bound by Civil Service rules, or even a binding Employee Handbook – you must first consider what each of those documents says, if anything, about (a) resignations in general, (b) when they are effective, and (c) when they can be withdrawn, if ever.

Most employees have no kind of employment contract, and so the “rules” of their employment relation are not as easy to determine. In those instances, the “rules” of the employment relation are only those “rules” that are written in our laws, either as passed by our legislatures or as interpreted by our Judges. (Examples of these are (i) minimum wages, (ii) required workers compensation insurance, and (iii) mandatory overtime for most people.)

But if you do, indeed, have one or more of these contracts in your employment relation, then the answer to your question may well lie in the terms and conditions set forth in that contract or those contracts.

Resignations can be tricky – and treacherous. To help you, we offer a 100-Point Master Pre-Resignation Checklist. All you need to know and remember. To obtain your copy, just [click here.] – Delivered by Email – Instantly!  

2. Second, assuming you have no employment contract, then whether you can rescind your notice of resignation is not really a legal question, but rather a question of what I call your employer’s (a) view of your “Perceived Value,” and (b) its degree of “Moral Concern.” If you and your employer do not have a contract, then you and your employer have what we call an “at will” employment relation, in which each side is free to end the employment relation at any time. Thus, your employer would be free to (a) permit you to rescind your resignation, if it wanted to, (b) hold you to your resignation, if that was their preferred path, or (c) any variation of the two, including permit you to stay for a longer, but limited, period of time. The two dynamics – (a) your Perceived Value and (b) their Moral Concern – are at the heart of so many of our decisions every single day when laws do not restrict our behaviors. 

You might wonder, “If my resignation was effective in a month, surely can’t I rescind it after only one week, before it is effective?” In a technical sense, yes, but if an employer knows you are leaning toward leaving, it also has the right to say, “Oh, your husband has relocated, and you might follow him . . . why don’t you just leave now.” So, though you might “technically,” “legally” have a point, it does not have practical significance. 

3. You can, though, affect your employer’s view of your “Perceived Value” to it, and in this way sway it to permit you to rescind your resignation. Your Perceived Value is another way of saying your employer’s perception of its “Self-Interest” in having you around. You can elevate that Perception of Value in many ways, as examples, (a) remind them of your strong reputation in their business sector or industry, (b) point out the amount of revenue you attract to the company, (c) emphasize that your staying put will keep intact important business relations, (d) remind them of important people in the company who you support in your work, or even (e) indicate that you are the only person (or one of the few people) who know the new software systems. These things all weigh heavily on an employer’s decision to permit resignation rescission. 

So, if in your own words and in your own way, you express, “If you permit me to rescind my resignation, then it will be good for you,” and you give good reasons why that is the case, you can increase the odds that your employer will permit you to rescind your resignation.  

4. You can also affect your employer’s degree of “Moral Concern” for you, and in this way sway it to permit you to rescind your resignation. Many people believe that employers are not moral beings, and that all they focus on is money and business. I don’t think that is true, because employers are people, too, and are as moral as employees. Hey, I’m an employer, myself!!! 

As at least somewhat moral human beings, employers do care about the plight of others, especially when the plight of others “strikes close to home.” Your diagnosis of cancer, and the struggle to defeat the cancer you face, is a circumstance that many, many people can surely relate to, yes, even employers. Just today I read a truly heart-warming story of one of our most voracious Wall Street firms honoring a high school student from the Midwest as its “Future CEO for the Day” as he is seriously stricken by cancer, and this was his Make a Wish dream. What a wonderful story! 

5. You have nothing to lose – and so much to gain – in respectfully requesting to be permitted to withdraw (or rescind) your notice of resignation, by using your Perceived Value and your employer’s Moral Concern. Life’s bigger decisions are easier to make when we have nothing to lose, and you have nothing to lose in making a respectful request to rescind your notice of resignation. 

In doing so, in writing, stress and emphasize your Value to the employer, in every way you can think. 

In doing so, in writing, offer a view of your plight, and why it is essential to you that you have the best medical help there is, how great a struggle you face, and how your ability to remain on your health care policy is crucial to your recovery. 

Make it personal, base it on value to them, and a matter of health for you, and make it soon, and you’ve got a chance of making it successfully. 

Dolores, I truly hope this is helpful to you, and that at a very minimum, you’ll give it a good try. Emphasize both Value and Morality, and keep it respectful. Address it to senior most management, or the Board of Directors. Keep in mind how much you have to gain by it being successful. I hope this adds to any sense that “You can do it, if only you try,” because that is my message to you. And, that’s what this blog is all about.

My Best and My Prayers to You,
Al Sklover 

P.S.: By the way, tired of all this reading? Rather just sit back, relax, watch and listen? Consider “Resigning – The 21 Necessary Precautions,” one of our Sklover Videos On Demand. See our Complete List. Just [click here]. 

  Repairing the World,
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