The case of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust v Levy is a good example of the need to take account of the context of events when dealing with employment law.
Mrs Levy had experienced difficulties in the records department in which she was employed and successfully applied for a positon in radiology which was offered to her subject to some pre-appointment checks. Having had this offer, and having had an altercation with another member of staff in the records department, Mrs Levy handed in a letter stating "please accept one month's notice from the above date". Her manager responded the same day accepting the "notice of resignation" and confirming Mrs Levy's last working day in the department. As Mrs Levy was going to be subject to an internal transfer no reference was made to her leaving her employment generally or to any outstanding issues such as accrued leave entitlement.
The offer from radiology was subsequently withdrawn due to Mrs Levy's sick leave record. She then attempted to retract her notice of resignation. However, the Trust refused to agree to this and confirmed her employment would end at the end of her notice period. Mrs Levy brought a claim for both constructive dismissal and unfair dismissal. The Trust defended the claim on the basis that she had resigned. The Employment Tribunal (ET) did not agree, finding that the letter giving notice had been ambiguous as to whether she was giving notice to leave the records department or her employment with the Trust and that, in fact, the Trust understood the notice to relate to the former only. The ET therefore upheld her unfair dismissal claim. The Trust appealed the finding that she had been dismissed.
The EAT agreed with the ET that the letter giving notice was ambiguous, and found that the ET had correctly looked at the Trust's immediate response and permissibly concluded that the letter related to Mrs Levy's departure from the records department only and not from her employment more generally.
The fact that the letter was ambiguous in its meaning left the door open to both the ET and the EAT to make a finding that it was not an effective resignation from employment. If an employer is in any doubt as to what an employee means in such a scenario then they should seek further clarification before taking steps to terminate employment.