It has become common practice for Employees to resign with immediate effect. Employers are often relieved when Employees resign in such a manner. This is due to the fact that Employees that have resigned usually create more problems in the workplace when serving their notice. Many Employers feel that such Employees do not make a positive contribution to the workplace and it is thus better for all involved, if no notice is served.

What has then happened to the contractually-agreed upon notice periods? Most Employment Contracts stipulate that at least one month’s notice must be given to the Employer. The more Senior the Employee is, who is resigning, the longer the notice period will have to be, which can be anything from two to six months’ notice.

This is to provide adequate time to find a suitable replacement for the said Employee and to ensure that the Employer is not left without a competent Senior Employee in that position. The Senior Employee that has resigned can also do a proper hand-over to the new Incumbent whilst serving his/her notice period.

What happens if the Employee resigns, but whilst serving his/her notice period, misbehaves? Must the Employer still take disciplinary action against the Employee? What happens if the Employee resigns with immediate effect, but the Employer holds him/her to the notice period as stipulated in their Employment Contract?

The Labour Court (sitting in Cape Town) had to answer these questions in Mark Michael Coetzee v The Zeitz Mocaa Foundation Trust and Others.

The Applicant (Mark Michael Coetzee) was issued with a document titled “precautionary suspension from employment” on the 15th of May 2018. In terms of this document, the Applicant had to make submissions to his Employer in terms of the allegations contained therein before 12h00 on the 29th of May 2018.

The Applicant resigned on the 16th of May 2018 by informing his Employer that “I didn’t want to hurt anyone or the Zeitz Mocaa Foundation Trust”. The Applicant did not submit a written resignation letter but had reached an agreement with his Employer pertaining to the statement that may be submitted to the Media. His Employer subsequently released the following statement to the Media: “an enquiry into Mr Coetzee’s professional conduct has been initiated by the trustees. Mr Coetzee has since tendered his resignation.”

The Applicant argued that the statement released to the Media by his Employer, created the impression that he had resigned with immediate effect and that the matter was resolved.