Ask HR Bartender: Giving Notice to Your Employer

by Sharlyn Lauby on April 9, 2012

This reader has a question about resignation notices. It’s a good one.

I’ve given my employer two weeks’ notice, which is required in the employee handbook. During those two weeks, my supervisor hasn’t found a replacement for my position. She asked that I stay 2 more weeks to help train whoever she hires. My dilemma is that I have a great opportunity to interview for an awesome position that would benefit me as far as a shorter commute and pay raise. Am I obligated to the company beyond my two weeks’ notice?

Working out your notice is always filled with a bunch of questions. Probably the first one being, why do companies require a notice period? It’s exactly for the reason mentioned in the reader comment. The purpose of working a notice period is to provide company the time to find a replacement and train them.

For notice periods to be effective, the company would be well served to understand how long it takes to hire and train an employee . For example, if it takes two weeks to hire and train someone, terrific. An employee gives two weeks’ notice and it works out beautifully.

But, what if it takes 3 weeks to hire and train a new employee? That means the company will have one week without a team member. And they need to plan for that one week. It could mean paying overtime, hiring a temp, etc.

And, if it takes, let’s say 5 weeks to hire someone, the options for the company to cover the work might change. This is why the time-to-fill metric is important to calculate and understand.

Let’s go back to notice periods. Because the reader wanted to know about their obligations, I asked employment quit, notice, period, notice period, lawyer, at-will, law, laws, handbook, 2 weeks' noticeattorney Eric B. Meyer to share his insights. (Please note: Eric is a super cool and very knowledgeable attorney. That being said, please do not construe his comments as legal advice and nothing he says here will create an attorney-client relationship. If you or someone you know has an employment-law related matter, you should consult your friendly neighborhood employment lawyer.)

Eric, are employees obligated to the company beyond their two weeks’ notice? 

(Eric) “Before answering that question, let’s take a step back and address the employment relationship generally. An employee is considered at-will unless the employee has a contract of employment for a specific duration, also known as a ’term agreement.’ Most of us are at-will. What that means is that an at-will employee can be fired or quit for any reason (or no reason at all) at any time.

Applying the concept of at-will employment to the situation in which an employee resigns with notice, if that at-will employee gives two weeks’ notice, then that employee does not have to work more than those two weeks. In fact, if that employee provides advance notice of resignation, the employer can stop the employee from working altogether on the date notice is provided, and there is nothing that the employee can do about it.”

Are you aware of any law that specifies how much notice you have to give or how much you have to work? 

(Eric) “Laws may vary from state to state, but I am not aware of any such laws. So, just as an employee may be fired without notice, the employee can resign without notice. If, however, the employee has an employment contract, which is a binding agreement between the parties, the employee should check that agreement prior to resigning to determine what, if any, notice may be required.”

What happens if you don’t work your notice? 

(Eric) “Generally speaking, if you are a non-exempt employee, you don’t get paid, unless your employer informs you otherwise. If you are exempt, unless you have an agreement (e.g., handbook, contract, etc.) that provides otherwise, your employer may treat  your failure to appear for work as personal time off, which, generally, is not compensable.”

Let me add to Eric’s last comment, not working your notice can impact your rehire status or future relationship with the company you’re leaving. That’s also usually spelled out in the company’s employee handbook.

And while we’re talking notice periods, no future employer should ask a new hire to not work out a proper notice period in order to get a job. They wouldn’t want an employee to leave them high and dry, so they shouldn’t ask it of others.

Lastly, if you’re faced with this situation and your employer wants you to stay on. Think about negotiating a win-win. Are you able to do it? Maybe you could work a flexible schedule. Or come in on the weekend. While it’s not an obligation, it could create a benefit for both you and the company.

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Eric D April 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

Absent a contractual obligation, what can an employer do if you decide not to work a notice period, Fire You!?!?!

A notice period allows you (employee) to NOT burn bridges. What is the management culture at the business and the employees understanding of it is a better indicator of what you should do.

A manager that needs to ask for an employee to stay longer, in my humble opinion, is an indicator that it was not a good place to work to begin with. The manager is not prepared for a transition the WILL take place and he/she is making it your problem.

There is a reason the employee wants to leave. Be polite. Point out that you met the requested period by the company and fulfilled your obligation. Your professional obligations prevent you from assisting them. You are not obligated to share your plans with the ex-boss. If you do, then he/she will second guess your judgment and convince you to change them. (Ex-bosses are very manipulative.)

Sharlyn Lauby April 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

@Eric – Thanks for the comment. I agree that corporate culture can drive your decision making here. Hopefully, if an employee’s goal is to not burn a bridge, they will look for a way to create a graceful exit.

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