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2 Feb 2018 Employer has to continue paying an ill employee who resigned (burnout)

Normally, when an employee resigns, their employment ends. Winding up the employment contract is usually a hitch-free process. Occasionally, however, the employee later regrets their decision, and asks the employer to continue paying them a wage.

This was what happened in a case involving an employee who was suffering from burnout and resigned, but later regretted her decision. The employee's lawyer demanded the reversal of the termination of her employment, and payment of her wage. In the first instance, the case was dealt with by the district court and, in the subsequent appeal, by the court of appeal in Arnhem-Leeuwarden.

The incontrovertible fact was that the employee had resigned. However, the employee argued that, at the time of her resignation, she was unable to make a reasoned decision because she was affected by a temporary mental disorder.

Burnout or depression can be accompanied by symptoms such as loss of interest, impeded judgement, etc. With this combination of symptoms, decisions may be taken without a proper understanding of their consequences. Moreover, the loss of interest may lead to an indifferent attitude towards decisions.

Even though, at the time, the employer justifiably construed her comments as her resignation, ultimately the employer should not have dismissed the employee. In this case, it had not been demonstrated that the employee’s resignation had placed the employer at a significant disadvantage.

The court then had to assess whether it was plausible that the employee was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of her resignation, and there was a causal link between that disorder and the resignation. According to the law, there is such a causal link if the legal action is detrimental to the person invoking the disorder, in this case the employee. The court found that, in this case, the resignation was detrimental to the employee, as it precluded her from eligibility for sickness or unemployment benefits.

This begged the question of whether the employee was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of her resignation. The court based its answer to this question on the following facts and circumstances.

The procedural documents reveal that the employee had been suffering from stress and stress-related complaints for some time. Whilst there was no firm medical diagnosis of the employee's state of health when she resigned, this was not essential in order to assess whether she was suffering from a mental disorder at the time. The question was whether, all things considered, it was plausible that the employee was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of her resignation which limited her capacity to be accountable for the full scope and consequences of resigning. Based on the available medical information, which reveals that, shortly after her resignation, the employee was suffering burnout or, at least, depression, the court found that, at the time of her resignation, the employee was suffering from a mental disorder. Therefore, it was sufficiently plausible that she gave her resignation under the influence of this disorder and that, in all reasonableness and fairness, it was unacceptable for the employer to hold the employee to her resignation. Therefore, the employee had rightly invoked the annulment of her resignation. Consequently, the employment contract was continued and the employee's wage claim was allowed.

In our practice, we regularly receive questions from, or about employees who were contending with burnout or depression when they resigned. The case on which the court of appeal in Arnhem-Leeuwarden had to rule is far from unique.

A word of caution, however: annulling a resignation is no easy matter, and always depends on the individual circumstances. Moreover, employees must always provide medical documents to substantiate their argument.

Tip for employees:

If you resigned while suffering burnout or depression and are regretting your decision, you will be pleased to know that there are ways of reversing your resignation. Consult an employment lawyer for advice on the options open to you.

Tip for employers:

If an employee resigns while suffering burnout or depression, it is advisable to check whether the employee genuinely wants to resign. How best to do this depends on the situation. In any event, it is often advisable to confirm to the employee in writing that they have resigned, bringing the employment contract to an end, and to also make them aware of the potential risks in regard to unemployment and/or sickness benefits. Always contact your employment lawyer to discuss the need for any additional measures and the best course of action.

If you have any questions, or are in need of advice, get in touch with our specialist employment lawyer for a no-obligation chat. We will be happy to help!

You can read the full ruling here

SPEE advocaten & mediation Maastricht

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