Casual Legal: What does "I'm done" REALLY mean?

By Mitchell R. Hayward
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

In the workplace, conflicts often surface between employees and employers (or other co-workers). Often, these conflicts lead to instances where an employee decides to leave the workplace, occasionally expressing statements such as “I’m done,” “I’m over this,” or “I can’t keep doing this”.

What unfolds from these moments is a complex dynamic: the employee claims they have been constructively dismissed, while the employer contends the employee has voluntarily resigned from their employment. If an employee has been constructively dismissed, then they are entitled to reasonable notice, otherwise known as “severance.” Conversely, if an employee has resigned then the employer has no obligation to provide any payment to the employee following the cessation of their employment. This divergence often sets the stage for intricate, and sometimes tumultuous, litigation. 

In Etedali et al. v Disi-Peri Mgt. Inc., 2022 ONSC 2184, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with this exact issue. In this case, the Plaintiff was hired as the Vice President of Business Development by the employer (Defendant). The relationship between the Plaintiff and the Defendant soured over the course of three years, largely due to personality conflicts. When things came to a head, the Defendant initiated a meeting with the Plaintiff to discuss the future of his involvement in the company.

At this meeting, the Defendant alleged that the Plaintiff stated, “I’m done with this,” “I’ve had enough”, and “I’m done”, but the Plaintiff never stated, “I quit” or “I resign.” Further, the Plaintiff threw his keys and corporate credit card on the table and stormed out of the office.

The Court outlined the law with respect to whether an employee’s words and gestures constitute a resignation:

[104]      However, in order for an employee’s resignation to be legally effective, it must meet certain requirements, assessed on an objective basis. The employee’s expression of their resignation must “clearly and unequivocally indicate an intention to be no longer bound by the employment contract” […]

This test bears a subjective and objective component. For a resignation to take place, the employee must subjectively intend, voluntarily and without coercion, to quit and the employee’s actions must demonstrate, objectively, that they in fact quit. In this case, the Court held that the Plaintiff’s words “I’m done” and I’ve had enough” were insufficiently clear to evince his intention to resign his employment. Rather, the Court explained that the employee was expressing his frustration with the circumstances.

This decision is emblematic of a broader trend wherein courts maintain a stringent standard for employers in wrongful dismissal cases, emphasizing the importance of clear, unambiguous evidence to establish resignation. Municipalities should ensure that they follow-up and inquire with an employee about their intention to resign – if it is ever unclear.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.