Resignation is the process of stepping down from a job, either voluntarily or involuntarily, with the latter often resulting from less-than-pleasant scenarios. An example of resignation on an involuntary basis may occur when a disgraced C.E.O. is forced to step down from his role with the company, in order to avoid further scrutiny. Once someone has announced or handed in a resignation, he has effectively quit his job, or stepped down from his role as a public official. To explore this concept, consider the following resignation definition.

Definition of Resignation


  1. A formal statement issued by someone who is giving up his or her office or position.
  2. The act of giving up one’s job or position.


1350-1400       Middle English < Medieval Latin resignation  [a release, or cancellation]

What is Resignation

The term resignation refers to the act of quitting a job, or stepping down from a public position, before the individual’s contract or term is up. While resignation is normally voluntarily, there have been instances in which employees felt they had no choice but to resign, else they would face harsher consequences. This is fairly common following a scandal, or some other problematic situation.

A perfect example of a resignation that was technically voluntary, but was really a result of having no viable options, was President Richard Nixon‘s resignation after the Watergate scandal. While his decision to resign was technically voluntary, had he remained president he would have almost certainly been impeached by Congress. Being faced with the same outcome in either case – losing the presidency – Nixon chose to leave on his own terms, in an effort to save face. When a monarch or pope resigns, it is referred to as “abdicating” the throne, rather than resigning.

Difference between Resignation and Termination

The end result of both resignation and termination is the same: the employee, executive, or public official loses his job. However, there are several differences between resignation and termination, with the most crucial element being who initiates the end of the individual’s tenure with the company or office.

When someone is terminated, it is the employer who ends the employment relationship, and this can happen for a multitude of reasons. In the absence of an employment contract, employers can generally hire and fire at will, so long as they are not making the decision based on the employee’s race, religion, gender, or other protected trait, as this is against the law.

On the other hand, an employee may choose to end the relationship by resigning, also for a multitude of reasons. Someone may resign because he has obtained a new opportunity for employment; for personal reasons, such as falling ill or having to take care of a sick relative; or simply because he does not like the job.

State law dictates whether or not the employer and the employee have to give one another notice before terminating the employment relationship. The type of employment relationship is another deciding factor. For instance, for those employed “at-will,” which is the norm in most states, either one may choose to terminate employment at any time, for any reason, and without prior notice being given to the other party. Employees should, however, consider whether or not they need a good reference in order to obtain another job. Leaving an employer in the lurch by quitting unexpectedly is viewed dimly by employers.

Normally, if someone is being terminated, or “fired,” for misconduct or poor performance, the termination is usually immediate. However, if the company is forced to conduct layoffs, then the employer may notify its employees in advance, so that the employees can line up new jobs, or make additional preparations for their support.

Length of Notice

Two weeks is the standard length of time that employees are expected to give their employers before leaving. They may choose to give more or less time, depending on the circumstances, and employers generally prefer the most time possible, so they can hire and train a replacement. If an employee is about to be laid off, he may be entitled to severance pay, which is meant to help tide the employee over financially until he can find another job. When an employee resigns, however, his normal compensation ends on his final day of employment.

Health Insurance

Another difference between resignation and termination involves health benefits. While employees who resign typically have another job with benefits lined up, or may not even need benefits due to being covered under their spouses’ plans, employees who have been terminated are entitled to continue their health benefits under COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), however they are responsible for paying for their own benefits out of pocket, including the amount previously covered by their employer.

COBRA rates are typically very expensive, which is why employees will often seek out a new job sooner rather than later, even if they are okay financially upon losing their jobs, for the sole reason of saving the exorbitant amount of money they end up paying for their health insurance. The federal government will sometimes offer a reduction in premiums under COBRA for those who are suffering financial hardship. COBRA is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, and information can be found on their website.

Resignation Letter

A resignation letter is a formal method of notifying an employer that an employee will soon be leaving the company. Upon receiving a resignation letter, the employer has the right to accept or reject the employee’s resignation, though it cannot prevent the employee from leaving. A rejection may, however, have a negative effect on the employee’s remaining days of employment. The resignation letter is best kept brief, but it should, at the very least, include the following information:

  • The name of the manager or supervisor who has authority over such things
  • An explanation for the employee’s resignation
  • The effective date of the employee’s resignation
  • The date of the employee’s last day of work
  • The date, and the employee’s name and signature

There may be a clause in the company policy or employment contract citing how many weeks’ notice an employee is required to give when resigning from the company. Many companies immediately terminate an employee who submits a resignation letter, regardless of the fact that the employee gave sufficient notice. This is because, in some circumstances, there is a possibility of the employee taking things that belong to the company, failing to properly see to his job tasks, or even taking adverse action against the company. For this reason, the employee should be mentally and financially prepared for the possibility that he or she will become unemployed immediately upon giving the company notice.

How to Write a Resignation Letter

The employee may want to consider giving the resignation letter a positive spin, whether that is by including a nice sentiment about the employer, showing gratitude for the opportunities the employer afforded the employee during his tenure with the company, or wishing the employer well in the future.

It is important that the employee refrain from burning bridges on his way out, instead leaving on good terms. It is possible, after all, that the employee may cross paths with that employer again sometime in the future. Leaving on positive and professional terms help ensure the employee has the option to work or collaborate with that company again, should the opportunity arise. Similarly, it is important to remain professional in a resignation letter, as the letter will be filed and potentially accessed later for the purpose of giving a reference.

Anyone who is resigning, but wondering how to write a resignation letter, may use a sample letter for the basic form and content. This information can be filled in, and expanded upon, with the individual’s specific comments.

Sample Resignation Letter

Many people feel they don’t know just how to format and word a resignation. This leaves them looking for a sample resignation letters online. There are several variations of sample resignation letters, depending on the type of employment from which the person is resigning, whether a regular hourly job, a high-powered executive position, or even volunteer work or a temporary assignment.

Below is a sample resignation letter that is simple and to the point. It clearly states that the employee intends to leave his position, and the date he intends to leave. As a courtesy, the employee gives the employer two weeks’ notice, so that the employer has time to find someone to fill the position.

Sample Resignation Letter 

[Employee’s Name]
[Street • City • State • Zip Code]
[Phone # • Fax phone # • Cellular phone # • Email address][Today’s Date][Recipient’s name]
[Company name]

Dear [Recipient’s name]:

Please accept this letter as my formal notice of resignation from [Company name], effective [date, two weeks from today’s date]. The associations I’ve made during my employment here will truly be memorable for years to come.

I hope a two-week notice is sufficient for you to find a replacement for me. If I can help to train my replacement, or tie up any loose ends, please let me know.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to work here.


[Employee’s signature]


[Employee’s printed name, title]

cc [Names for copies]

Resignation Example in the United States Postal Service

Marvin Green started his career with the United States Postal Service in 1973. He became postmaster of the Englewood, Colorado post office nearly 30 years later in 2002. Six years after that, a postmaster position in Boulder became available, and Green expressed an interest in the position by submitting an application. Green, a black man, was denied the position, and felt that it was because of his race.

In response, Green filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) alleging discrimination. That charge which was settled, and he remained at his job. The following year, in 2009, Green followed up with an informal EEO charge, accusing both his supervisor and his supervisor’s replacement with recrimination for his filing of the formal EEO charge the year before.

Over the course of 2009, Green was the subject of several internal investigations conducted by the Post Office, and was even threatened with criminal prosecution, having been accused of intentionally delaying the mail. Ultimately, Green signed an agreement stating that he would immediately resign from his current position, and either retire early, or accept a significant demotion. This is an example of resignation that is involuntary. Despite the fact that Green signed the contract, he had been essentially backed into a corner. His only choices were to either sign the contract, or continue to work in a hostile working environment.

Green chose the retirement option, and once again filed charges with the EEO office, who dismissed his claim. Green subsequently sued in the federal district court, alleging that he had been “constructively discharged,” which means he was forced to resign, as the result of a hostile work environment.

The district court held that Green was barred from making a constructive discharge claim because he had not reached out to an EEO counselor within 45 days of signing the agreement that forced him to resign. The Court considered the contract to be the last of the allegedly discriminatory acts committed in this matter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Green took his claims of discrimination, retribution, and constructive discharge to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to have the district court’s ruling on the 45-day period reversed. The Supreme Court ruled that the time period does not necessarily begin with the signing of the agreement, but when the employee has a ” complete and present cause of action.” This means that, in Green’s case, he had to wait to file the lawsuit until the discrimination had occurred, and he resigned as a result of constructive discharge.

The Court found in favor of Green, 7-1. Further, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. noted that, if the employer’s intention with a constructive discharge claim is to force the employee to resign, the employee’s resignation is equal to being terminated or fired by his employer. As such, the employee is entitled to a new statute of limitations period that begins at that time.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Constructive Termination (or Constructive Discharge) – A situation wherein an employee resigns as the result of working in a hostile work environment.
  • Statute of Limitations A statute that outlines an exact time frame within which a lawsuit can be brought.

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