Can you ‘joke’ about quitting your job? Yesterday was April Fools' Day. It also saw embattled Senator Patrick Brazeau tweet “I will step down from my position!” Later adding “Official annoucement tomorrow at 10am.” He was kidding.
But, the question remains, can 'regular' working people joke about quitting?
The answer, like everything in law, would appear to be ‘maybe.’
As noted in the Commentary to Wrongful Dismissal on CanLII.org:
As the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) noted in Skidd v. Canada Post Corporation,  O.J. No. 446 (QL) (Gen. Div.), aff’d,  O.J. No 712 (QL) (C.A.), to be effective a resignation like a dismissal, must be “clear and unequivocal.” Unlike a finding of dismissal, however, which must be based on an objective test, i.e., whether the acts of the employer, objectively viewed, amount to dismissal, a finding of resignation requires the application of both a subjective and objective test, namely, “whether the employee intended to resign and whether the employee's words and acts, objectively viewed, support a finding that she resigned”: Beggs v. Westport Foods Ltd., 2011 BCCA 76 (CanLII). Thus "[w]hether words or action equate to resignation must be determined contextually. The surrounding circumstances are relevant to determine whether a reasonable person, viewing the matter objectively, would have understood [the employee] to have unequivocally resigned": Kieran v. Ingram Micro Inc. 2004 CanLII 4852 (ON CA), 33 C.C.E.L. (3d) 157 (Ont. C.A.), leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused,  S.C.C.A. No. 423 (QL).
Application to Sen. Brazeau’s Tweet
Was Sen. Brazeau “clear and unequivocal” in his tweet? Arguably not. He did not say he was stepping down from his position “as Senator” and his tweet was not directed at anyone in particular.
Viewed in context, one has to remember that yesterday was April Fools’ Day. That fact left many speculating that he was, very likely, kidding.
For most people joking about quitting their job would not be a wise move. Even if an employee later took the position that he was only joking, I suspect that few employers would find the joke funny.
However, as the case law demonstrates, unless an employee is clear and unequivocal in wording of his resignation the resignation may not actually take effect, unless the employer has relied upon the resignation to its detriment.
If you are actually considering resigning from your job it may be prudent to seek professional legal advice. There can be a lot of issues with respect to resignation, such as the length of notice to provide to one’s employer, and whether an employee can be legally permitted to compete with his or her former employer or solicit his or her former clients or accounts.
I would be happy to be of service to you if you are considering resigning from your position. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 613.238.6321. I can also be reached, via twitter, @SeanBawden.
As always, everyone’s situation is different. The above is not intended to be legal advice for any particular situation and it is always prudent to seek professional legal advice before taking any decisions on one’s own case.
Sean P. Bawden is an Ottawa, Ontario employment lawyer and wrongful dismissal lawyer practicing with Kelly Santini LLP, and part-time professor at Algonquin College teaching Trial Advocacy for Paralegals. He is a trustee of the County of Carleton Law Association for 2013.