According to the judge, termination of her employment contract by an employee in the education sector cannot be regarded as a clear and unequivocal statement aimed at termination of the employment contract, because, according to the judge, the statements must be seen in the light of the conflict about corona measures and the great (emotional) impact that corona (and the accompanying measures) have on people. What exactly was at issue?
Since August 2009, the employee has been employed by the Atlas College Foundation (hereinafter: Atlas College) in the position of teaching assistant at the Copernicus location. In September/October 2020, a discussion arose between the parties about wearing a mouth mask at school. By e-mail of 3 November 2020, the employee reports sick. The parties had a conversation on 24 November 2020. The conversation report states that the employee wants to stop working at Copernicus and that Atlas College will investigate what support they can provide in this respect. On 3 December 2020, the parties discuss the possibilities of leaving the company. On 4 December 2020, the employee sent an e-mail to Atlas College requesting that her employment contract be dissolved on 1 January 2021. On the same day, the employee also sends an e-mail to her colleagues informing them that she has decided to end her career at Copernicus on 1 January 2021. At Atlas College's request, the employee sends her letter of resignation to Atlas College on 9 December 2020. In the e-mail accompanying the letter of resignation, the employee writes that it does not feel right to her to submit her resignation purely voluntarily, but that the situation has forced her to do so. Atlas College accepts the resignation. On 14 December 2020, the employee wrote that she was rescinding her letter of resignation. On 1 January 2021, Atlas College effected the termination of the employment. The employee claims that the subdistrict court should order Atlas College to pay her salary as from 1 January 2021.
For the time being, the Subdistrict Court is of the opinion that the notice of 9 December 2020 cannot be regarded as a clear and unequivocal statement aimed at terminating the employment contract. The mere words used in this notice ("forced", "in fact no other choice" and "when the truth comes out and it turns out that I was right") do not qualify as an unequivocal statement from which it could and should be concluded that the employee unconditionally wanted her employment at Atlas College to end, with all the consequences thereof.
In addition, she has stated that she supports the dismissal, but not "the big financial hole". The latter does not indicate that the employee's wish was actually for a unilateral termination. This leads to the opinion that there is no question of a (legally valid) termination of the employment contract as per 1 January 2021, so that the employment contract has not been terminated.
Although the subsequent question of whether Atlas College was entitled to rely justifiably on the employee's statement of 9 December 2020 has not been addressed, the Subdistrict Court nevertheless sees cause to address this question in the interest of efficient dispute resolution. Unlike Atlas College argued, in the Subdistrict Court's preliminary opinion, the termination cannot be inferred from the course of events prior to the termination on 9 December 2020, nor from the employee's actions thereafter. The Subdistrict Court acknowledged that the e-mail of 4 December and the farewell letter are evidence of the wish of the employee to terminate the employment, but that is not enough.
The employee has explained that she saw no other way out at that moment. It should be taken into account that the (emotional) impact of the corona outbreak and the associated measures is considerable for many people. This also applies to the employee in particular. Atlas College should have taken this into account in its dealings with the employee. Nevertheless, Atlas College chose to make a businesslike proposal in which the employee was given only two choices. The Subdistrict Court considers it highly likely that, at that moment, the employee felt as if she was being forced into it and, in fact, had no choice but to choose to terminate her employment. She should not have done so. In the given circumstances, Atlas College was not entitled to trust that the employee actually wished to terminate the employment contract, in the opinion of the Subdistrict Court. The fact that she nevertheless assumed this, and proceeded to terminate the employment contract, can be held against her. In view of the above, the request of the employee for continued payment of salary from 1 January 2021 is granted.
In this decision, we see that judges are sometimes inclined to take the exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves today (corona pandemic) into account in their assessment of a dispute. In this ruling, the employer is in fact required not to simply accept termination, but to investigate the motives of the employee and ascertain whether she actually intends to terminate her employment contract. Would you like to know more about the rights and obligations of the employer and employee within the framework of the termination of an employment contract, or do you have any other questions concerning employment law? The lawyers and mediator at SPEE lawyers & mediation will be happy to assist you.