The possibility that some or all of the commissioners will resign has arisen because the DoE looks unlikely to offer a mandatory compensation scheme for staff made redundant following reorganisation.
The commission has repeatedly said a mandatory scheme is crucial to the success of the review.
Mr Atherton described it as 'one of the three legs of the tripod', and that if it was not forthcoming 'the tripod would fall over'.
'If something happens and you feel for some reason you can't carry on, the only alternative is to leave. That does send a message to the government.'
The DoE is expected to issue its consultation paper on compensation before the end of the month, and it is thought it will allow authorities discretion on the minimum terms they offer staff.
'I have yet to meet an authority that wanted any discretion,' Mr Atherton said.
And on the consultation paper, he said: 'I await the results with interest but I have to say I am pessimistic about the outcome.'
Mr Atherton also pointed out that any compensation scheme will depend on councils having adequate resources.
'If they are not forthcoming your hands are not only tied, but strapped behind your backs,' he said.