Eunice Madondo v Conquip Zimbabwe (Private) Limited SC (25 – 16)

“I have no doubt in my mind that in addition to being a pension claim form directed to the pension company concerned, the same document carried a clear and unequivocal message or notice directed to the respondent, that the appellant was tendering her resignation. To suggest that it was not such a notice by virtue of its composite purpose would, in my view, be to unnecessarily emphasize form over substance. As indicated earlier, there is no set format or method of communicating the act of resignation.”

Introduction

Resignations come in all shapes and sizes. We contend that a resignation is pretty much straightforward. An employee simply puts across their unequivocal intention to end the employment relationship and that’s it, the employment ends. Whilst resignation is this candid, Eunice Madondo v Conquip Zimbabwe (Private) Limited SC 25 – 16 illustrates how a resignation may result in a dispute. The case also shows how a court may end up ordering costs on the legal practitioner and client scale.

The Facts

The Appellant employee was employed by the respondent company as a Finance Director from May 2007 up to February 2012. In February 2012 she had a dispute with the respondent Managing Director and General Manager which dispute had resulted in her suspension from work. On 13 February 2012, the appellant completed a “Pension Withdrawal Claim Form”. The form had a section where she was supposed to indicate her reasons for withdrawing from the pension. She indicated that it was because she was “leaving Conquip.”  The General Manager signed the form and in turn, she was paid her pension. The disciplinary proceedings that had been planned were set aside on realizing that she had resigned. Aggrieved she approached a labour officer and eventually an arbitrator who ruled that she had resigned. The Labour Court agreed with the Arbitrator. She remained aggrieved resulting in the Supreme Court appeal.

The Law

The Supreme Court looked at the definition of the word resignation. After utilizing the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it was apparent that resignation means: “an act of giving up one’s job or position”.

Having defined resignation it went on to state that:

“The form a notice of resignation should take is not ‘cast in stone’ as it were. One can resign verbally, by a letter or through whatever way may be preferred as long as the communication is transmitted to the correct recipient. In casu the Pension Withdrawal form which was filled by the appellant contained a section which required one to state the reason why he or she wished to withdraw the pension contributions or why they no longer wanted to be part of the pension scheme. This is where the appellant stated her reason as “leaving Conquip.” Taking the Oxford Dictionary definition of a resignation I am satisfied that this reason denoted an ‘act’ by the appellant, of giving up her job.”

The appellant’s act of presenting the form to the General Manager showed that she was resigning, the court observed. When the General Manager signed the form, the communication of the resignation was made. The court also looked at the law in the case of Jakazi & Anor v The Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (SC 10/13) where the Supreme Court stated that:

“The law is clear. Resignation is a unilateral act which takes effect upon being communicated.”

It thus followed, in the court’s view that at the time the Appellant indicated on the form that she was “Leaving Conquip” the resignation was communicated and acknowledged by the General Manager. Her argument that she had withdrawn from the pension fund so as to get money for school fees was found to be unacceptable.

Conclusion

At the close of the case, the court ordered that the appeal had no merit and was dismissed on the legal practitioner and client scale. In justifying this scale of costs, the court decided:

“The appellant must have known that the appeal had no merit but nevertheless persisted with it all the way to this Court. In the process, she put the respondent to the unnecessary expense of defending the litigation”.

Own Comment

The case is clear cut, once an individual communicates unequivocally that they are leaving employment, it means they have resigned. It does not matter whether such communication is in the form of a Pension Withdrawal Form, email, verbally etc. It may be added that, being a unilateral act, the employer does not need to acknowledge a resignation. Once it is communicated, the employment relationship comes to an end.

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