“My ‘Involuntary Resignation’ was not accepted as ‘involuntary.’ What do I do?”

Question: Hi, Alan,

I submitted my involuntary resignation by email giving detail as to what, why and how my job and the abuse I suffered affected me mentally and physically.

I later received an email from the HR department stating that it would not be considered an “involuntary” resignation because I wasn’t asked to resign. 

Is this true and how should this situation be approached?

Kansas City, Missouri

Answer: Dear Jess: Your question is a good one, and an especially welcome one because it gives me an opportunity to address this circumstance directly for, I believe, the first time.       

1. You know better than anyone else in the world whether or not your resignation was truly “voluntary” or “involuntary.” When an employee submits a resignation, as you did, that states that it is “involuntary,” that is a statement to your employer and to the rest of the world, that “I am leaving, but not on my own choice.” It is a statement, it is a position, it is a “stand,” and no one can say “You are wrong.” Sure, people can say, “I don’t agree,” or “I will not accept your stated reason,” but your statement “This resignation is involuntary” is, all by itself, a fact, and not one that can be changed.

As the old saying goes, “Everyone can have their own opinion. But no one is entitled to have their own reality.”

In your note to me, you indicated that your job made you suffer mentally and physically. I believe our society accepts that no employee can be forced to get sick, and that all employees have a right to leave such illness-producing situations. Your involuntary resignation letter is good, clear, and permanent evidence of “what, why and how” it all happened, is available as great evidence of your mindset and the circumstances at the time of your resignation, just in case you need it in the future, for various reasons which will be explained below.

2. Your employer has said, in effect, “I don’t accept your view, and I will not treat you differently than if you had resigned voluntarily.” No employee can reasonably expect their employer to agree with them in all circumstances. Nor can any employee reasonably expect their employer to do everything they wish their employer would do. In your case, at least at this time, your employer disagrees with your view, and is not prepared, apparently, to treat you as if your resignation is “involuntary.” That is not necessarily permanent, and is not a problem but more a challenge for you.

Let’s examine your employer’s reasoning, which is essentially “Unless we ask for your resignation, all other reasons in the world for leaving us – including if you feared for your life, feared for your safety, or feared for your health – is not sufficient for us.” Bottom line: between you and your employer we seem to have a disagreement, in which each “side” has a different view, based on different reasoning.

If you ask me, and I am a pretty reasonable person, I think “The job made me physically and emotionally ill” is a pretty strong reason to say you left “involuntarily.” In contrast, your employer’s view that “You cannot leave involuntarily unless we ask you to do so” is a very poor reason to deny what you say.  

With similar reasoning, imagine for the moment that your employer’s building was on fire, and you ran outside to save your health and life. It sounds like your employer would not consider your running out of the building to be “involuntary” unless they asked you to do so. That is non-sensical at best; dishonest at worst. Running to protect your health or save your life is not “voluntarily running.” 

3. By itself, whether your resignation is labeled “voluntary” or “involuntary” makes little difference; what is important are the possible consequences of that labeling. If  you think about it, your disagreeing with HR on this “labeling” point is not, in itself, of great importance. What may, though, be of great importance are the potential consequences to you of that labeling.

What “consequences” are these? They include (a) whether you will receive unemployment benefits; (b) whether your stock or stock options will continue to vest, or be forfeited; (c) whether or not you will receive deferred income or other employer benefit plans; (d) whether or not you will have to repay monies previously paid to you for such things as sign-on bonuses, educational outlays or relocation assistance; (e) whether or not you receive commissions on past sales; (f) whether or not any non-compete agreement you may have signed remains in effect or is voided; and (g) whether or not you are entitled to severance.

Now, those are pretty important, no?

4. Now here is the really important point: Whether or not your resignation was involuntary, and whether or not you will receive each of the valuable items listed as “a” through “g,” above may not, in the end, be decided by HR, or even your former employer, but instead by others who are independent of both sides, presumably reasonable and honest, and probably employees, themselves, for other companies. You can expect that your employer will not easily agree that you were treated unfairly or illegally. And you can bet that Human Resources will support your employer in this; hey, that’s their job. But, if you insist that you are correct, other people – not your Managers and not HR – will ultimately be the “deciders” on whether or not you receive the valuable items listed above as items “a” through “g.”  

And it is that fear – that “others” may, in the end, make that decision – is what most commonly gets employers to change their minds about how to treat involuntary “resigners” like yourself.

5. Who are these “other people” whose opinions really count on “Did he leave voluntarily or involuntarily?” Who are these “presumably disinterested and honest” people whose view of “what, when and how” you resigned really counts? Who are these people who are really more important in this situation than anyone else? 

They are “outsiders” who can tell your employer what to do, and whether to give you those items listed as “a” through “g,” and who your employer actually fears, including among them: (i) your employer’s Board of Directors; (ii) appropriate administrative agencies, both state and federal, who regulate and enforce laws regarding discrimination, retaliation, wages due, safety, pensions, harassment and other illegal acts at work; (iii) applicable regulatory and licensing agencies and authorities who require and impose a level of honesty and integrity of conduct in such fields as medicine, law, insurance, investments, charities, and the like, and last but not least, but only if necessary; (iv) members of a Jury that is comprised of your “neighbors,” that is, people as reasonable and as honest as you are – the vast majority of which have been or are employees, themselves.    

6. So, your next step is to not accept “No” for an answer, and write back – not to HR – but to a member of senior-most management about your surely “involuntary” resignation, what happened, and most importantly, what you want and expect him or her to direct HR to do to solve the problems caused. The first purpose of an involuntary resignation is to (a) give notice that your leaving is surely not voluntary. The second purpose of an involuntary resignation is to (b) insist that you now be treated in all ways as if terminated without cause, at the very least, and hopefully with compensation for your damages. In your case, purpose “a” has been accomplished, and now you need to keep trying to accomplish your purpose “b.”

The next step is to write a follow-letter to a member (or two) of senior-most management and (a) remind them of your truly “involuntary” departure and its reasons, (b) advise them that the response to date has been unacceptable to you, (c) notify them of the treatment you should be given referring to the items “a” through “g” in section “3” above that are applicable to you, and (d) put them on notice that, unless this is resolved to all parties’ satisfaction you will have no choice but to take the next steps by contacting those people labeled “i” through “iv” in section “5,” above. 

Fortunately, we offer a Model Letter entitled “Follow-Up Letter to Involuntary Resignation” that is meant to be used in these circumstances, and that is a really good model of what your own follow-up letter should include and sound like. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy to adapt for your own use, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!  

Jess, I recognize that this might very well seem like an awful lot of work. It is not a two-minute job, that is for sure. But, fortunately you can do this for yourself and have every chance of being successful if you try, and no downside risk if you do. And, if you try, you will never have to say to yourself “I wonder what would have happened if I did try.”    

We also offer a Model Letter for use by former employees to collect commissions, wages or other monies owed by their former employers. “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy you can adapt to your own facts and circumstances, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

I know this answer to your question was a bit wordy, but your question and the potential value of involuntary resignations to many people made writing it entirely worth it. With these things in mind, I hope you are successful in your pursuit of your goals, and in finding new, healthy and productive employment. 

If this was helpful, I’d very much appreciate it if you would tell your family, friends, and colleagues about our blogsite and all it has to offer.   

My Best to You,
Al Sklover

P.S.: If you would like to obtain a list of five or more experienced, “employee-side” employment attorneys in the Kansas City area, just [click here]. Delivered by Email – Instantly!

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