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Recently a friend working in Texas took his boss to a meeting room and handed over a letter of resignation. The response from the boss was:

I don't accept your resignation.

Now a resignation letter is just a notification of a termination of employment. There doesn't appear to be any way that an employer can compel you to keep working. At worst bad timing of a resignation could sour the relationship with the employer and leave a bad reputation behind.

Can a boss enforce their refusal to accept a resignation?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 7 '16 at 1:32
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In states with at-will employment (like Texas) and in the absence of a contract specifying terms related to resignation or notice periods, an employer cannot refuse a resignation. That's because at-will employment is clearly defined:

An employee will be deemed 'at-will' if there is no definite term of employment. An at-will employment relationship may be terminated by either side at any time for any reason or for no reason, even an irrational reason, as long as the employee is not terminated for an illegal reason

Source: Lipman, Lisa R. (8 Aug 1999). Employment At Will: Overview and Recent Case Law (PDF).

If an employer were able to deny someone the right to terminate their employment without a bona fide and legal contract in place that covers resignations it would be tantamount to indentured servitude. While as far as I know this was never explicitly outlawed in the US, it would require a contract. To clarify, such contracts will only specify notice periods and the requirements to tender your resignation. As far as I know, no legal contract can prevent an employee from resigning (i.e. starting his notice period) or allow an employer to refuse to accept a resignation indefinitely.

The standard in the US is to give two weeks notice when you resign. An employer can balk at the timing but that's a cost of doing business. They cannot force an employee to continue working. They can refuse to give a reference but it would be highly unethical to do so if the employee is giving the standard amount of notice. No reasonable employer will consider "he didn't keep working when I refused his resignation" to be a problem if it came up during a background check: it would only mark that manager as a loon.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 8 '16 at 6:32
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Maybe;

NO: Lilienthal has the right answer for non-contract work, or at will employment (no all US states are at will employment, but the same idea basically applies. If there is no set term of employment, either side can terminate the arrangement).

YES: If the employee signed a contract specifying a length of time to be employed, AND that contact has specific terms for ending the employment early, AND the contact makes a difference between an employee resigning, and a employer firing, then yes they can turn down your resignation.

An example of something like that may be, tuition assistance in exchange for a 5 year contact, if the employee resigns and the resignation is accepted, then the employee has to pay 50% of the tuition assistance back, pro-rated for the length of employment. If the employer does not accept the resignation, then the employee must pay 100% of the tuition assistance back, pro-rated for the term of employment.

OTHER: Usually, the difference between an accepted resignation and a non-accepted one comes down to "why you left" in the HR department. If the resignation is not accepted, then it will look like you just stopped showing up to work. You will be "fired" for no call/no show. If your resignation is accepted then you left on good terms.

Aside from contract specifics, which are a real thing but vary a lot. I have seen companies reject resignations for a number of reasons.

  • An attempt to work out a deal to keep the employee. I will not accept your resignation, but I will offer you a raise.
  • An attempt to get the employee to go though the exit process. I will not accept your resignation till you hand in your security badge and take the exit interview.
  • A contractual agreement, that the company did not feel the employee met. I will not accept your resignation, we paid for you to go to foo school to learn to make widgets, and you have yet to produce a single widget for us.
  • A play for time, to let the employee cool off. I will not accept your resignation now. If your still upset about our change in health care providers, give it to me again next week.

Keep in mind that worst case scenario, outside a contract, is a bad reference. That's serious, but they can't force you to work or keep your pay or anything like that. Inside a contract, that's a totally different story. They can't force you to work, but they can take money from you, keep your pay, transfer bills or costs, or all kinds of other things.

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    no[t] all US states are at will employment Technically true, but that only state that's not is Montana. – Justin Lardinois Sep 7 '16 at 0:15
  • @JustinLardinois TIL why Vasili Borodin wanted to live in Montana. His choice always struck me as a bit odd... – Alexander Sep 7 '16 at 7:32
  • @Alexander It's worth noting that defining what is and isn't at-will employment involves a bit of opinion, and Montana's "not at-will" is more similar than different to other states' at-will. – Justin Lardinois Sep 7 '16 at 7:36
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    What your answer explains is not that the manager can refuse the resignation but that he could ask for a monetary compensation -in the case that the resignation breaks some contract conditions-. That means a lot of difference (for example, in India, in certain industries you are not employable until your previous manager has "freed" you, in the USA -excluding non competence clauses- your manager has no ways to avoid you getting another job). – SJuan76 Sep 8 '16 at 9:11
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    @SJuan76: Minor correction: It should be non-compete clauses. Non-competence clauses are an interesting idea, though. – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '16 at 10:44
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The answer to this is obviously no, an employer can't force an employee to stay with the company. It is however a possibility that the boss didn't really mean: "I refuse you to leave", but rather "I will not let you leave due to xxx".

The latter one implies that the employee resigns because he/she believes it's the best for the company. I've never encountered situations where this happens for employees with a small degree of responsibility, but I've heard about it in cases where the employee is an important figure within the company. I don't know if this is the case here, but it's possible based on the information in the question.

One example:

There was a case in my home town where the police did a horrible job in handling a murder case and was heavily criticized in the media as well as in the court room. The head of the police department handed in his resignation, taking responsibility for the department's poor handling of the case.

His chief, the national head of police refused his resignation, saying he was still wanted as head of the department. The department head stayed on his job for several more years.

This didn't mean that he couldn't have resigned and started working some other place, only that the national head of police didn't accept that he quit due to his handling of that particular case.

This was really an action saying: "I trust you, and would appreciate if you stay with us."


You didn't say in the question that your friend is a leader, you only said he has a boss. Almost everyone has a boss, even department chiefs or those high up in the corporate ladder.

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Yes, but this doesn't actually do very much.

Thanks to the thirteenth amendment, an employer cannot stop an employee from walking out. This is Texas, an at-will state so it makes things simpler. An employer can't withhold pay for work performed either.

Refusing the resignation does one thing; if he was giving notice and it was refused, now he hasn't given notice (but tried to so it can't be used against him) and so can now change his mind, which is what the employer wants anyway.

But by the time somebody needs to ask this question, the ability to change mind isn't going to come into play.

  • Famous Quote: "You can't win an argument with your boss." – user37746 Sep 8 '16 at 14:06
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I guess I'm unclear here as to what you're asking. On the one hand, yes, of course an employer can absolutely refuse to accept a resignation you've handed in. If the question is, what can they do about it, well, the answer is "not a whole lot". If you signed a contract with them then they could make you fulfill the terms of it (as contracts of this variety pretty much always say "work for us for X number of years or pay us Y amount of money" or something similar). If you're in the country on an employment visa then they can revoke the visa (although - and please be advised that I am not a lawyer - I believe that your new employer could re-up it). I know that in some non-US countries (India?) they might refuse to sign a release form or whatever it is they do over there. If you signed a non-compete contract, then... well, those things are rarely enforceable but some employers are still skittish of them, so that's a thing to watch out for.

Beyond that, though, all they can really do is complain when you leave. The whole "two weeks notice" thing is a courtesy; there is nothing preventing you from walking in one day, saying "I quit", and walking right on out (at least not in the US). What you're generally expecting in return is, if not a reference, at least something other than a sandbag job when your new employer calls them to confirm you worked there (I believe that by US law all they can legally tell your new employers is that you worked at a given location and the dates worked, but that doesn't mean that a vindictive boss might not share other info) and maybe some way of recouping accrued benefits (though that often requires you to stay longer than 2 weeks).

If none of those are issues for you, though, then there are really fairly limited ways that an employer can compel you to work for them, which is why I feel like we need more info. At worst, your soon to be former boss sounds petulant and it's probably a good idea that you're getting away from them.

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    "I believe that by US law all they can legally tell your new employers is that you worked at a given location and the dates worked" - That's a common company policy, but there's no law requiring it. Even if such a law did exist, it would seem to be legally tenuous on First Amendment grounds. – reirab Sep 6 '16 at 21:32
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Since it doesn't seem to have been covered yet in the current answers, There is the possibility of the supervisor that you hand it to simply refusing to take it, or discarding it. If you think there's any risk of them "losing" your letter, you may want to take a second copy to Human Resources at your company, with an excuse of that you "thought they might want a copy too".

Alternately, as Gnasher suggested in the comments:

Send it by registered mail. It has legally arrived either when it arrives and the company signs for it, or if it arrives and they refuse to accept it. Either way the post office will give you the evidence, and if they refuse to accept the letter then you have still resigned; they just can't read it - their fault.

That probably bears the caveat that you'll want to time your letter so that it shows up by your day of resignation and, if you're trying to avoid being removed from your job too early, you'll want to avoid them opening it too early.

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    Send it by registered mail. It has legally arrived either when it arrives and the company signs for it, or if it arrives and they refuse to accept it. Either way the post office will give you the evidence, and if they refuse to accept the letter then you have still resigned; they just can't read it - their fault. – gnasher729 Sep 7 '16 at 15:13

protected by Community Sep 7 '16 at 8:02

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