Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Industry standards used to be that departing employees and companies terminating employees each gave 2 weeks’ notice. That standard held for years, until many employers stopped upholding their end of the unwritten deal, and claiming employment at will, did away with notice selectively.
That opened a big can of worms, as it made employees think of what used to be unthinkable – immediate resignation, without giving the usual two weeks’ notice.
So immediate resignation may now be a more popular option, but is it right for you?
There are many considerations, including legal concerns, when deciding to leave with less than a 2 weeks’ notice. Since I’m not an employment lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, I asked Dan Felix of The Executive’s Attorney to offer his views. Dan is an expert in helping employees determine their termination options and risks.
Dan suggested that if you’re thinking about giving less than two weeks’ notice, the first thing to ask is “Why?” If an employee leaves with less than two weeks notice, it’s most often due to one of these typical reasons:
1) An offer from a new employer who needs the employee now
2) The present employment situation is uncomfortable for the employee
3) The employee doesn’t want the awkwardness of being a ‘lame duck’
If your new employer wants you now, you’ll have to balance the benefit of moving to your new employer immediately vs the potential badwill or even loss of earnings by leaving your old employer early. Perhaps you can negotiate with the new employer to make you whole on any income losses from leaving your old employer early.
If the present employment situation is uncomfortable for you, you’ve got to ask yourself why, and be honest with yourself. If you are being asked to do something illegal or immoral, leave. If you’re uncomfortable because you don’t like your boss or coworkers, consider gutting it out – the risks or lost income might not be worth it. If you are uncomfortable due to harassment, consider talking to a lawyer.
If you just don’t like being a ‘lame duck’ (and who does?), just deal with it. It’s not worth possible income losses and potential badwill from jumping ship early, just so you can hang out in the backyard and tan.
When considering giving less than two weeks’ notice, Dan suggested that you should first look at your employment contract, if you signed one. Check out the file you kept of all the papers you signed when you joined the company, subsequent non-compete/non-disclosure agreements, or employment agreements you may have signed. Dan mentioned that in most states “There’s nothing in the law to say ‘Thou shalt give notice.’ Expecting an employee to give a 2 week notice is legal to the extent they signed an agreement or obligated themselves to give that notice.”
Dan added “Most companies just have cultural expectations of ‘that’s how it’s done around here.’” Some companies will make the day you give notice your last day. Be aware, so if that’s the norm with your employer, you can prepare before giving notice.
Employment-at-will says that either party can walk away without hindrance or penalty. All States enforce Employment-at- will to some degree, according to http://employeeissues.com, but each state is different. Dan Felix suggests you consult an employment attorney with expertise in the specific employment laws of your state.
Two week notices policies in Employee handbooks usually aren’t legal contracts in most situations. Dan mentioned that “Most companies go out of their way to affirm that employee manuals are not a contract.”
But if you’ve signed an employment contract, here’s what is at risk:
- Unpaid Bonuses
- Severance benefits
- Accrued Vacation pay
- Unpaid Commissions
- Unreimbursed expenses
- Other issues
Even if you haven’t signed a contract, if cultural expectations are to give two weeks notice, you may risk a poor reference from your old boss if they felt slighted.
So before you decide to ditch your employer early, make a transition plan, determine if you need a Lawyer’s help, anticipate issues, risks, and opportunities for negotiation. Specifically consider the following:
1) What are your goals? Why do you want to leave early?
2) Did you sign an explicit employment contract, and what does it say?
3) Consider the culture, and company norms – what happened when others left with less than two weeks' notice?
4) Is there any opportunity for leverage or negotiation? Consider Legal, business, moral, and personal leverage opportunities.
Dan stressed “Don’t just take your friend’s or a recruiter’s advice, and definitely don’t just depend on your career coach’s advice. Even with the best of intentions, they don’t know the law. Each situation is different and each employer is different. Most employees look at the issues myopically, but legal expertise helps you see the whole picture. Talk to someone who’s evaluated hundreds of these situations, who can help you make a calm, informed, rational decision.”
Kids, don’t try this at home. Call in the cavalry and get an expert to help you make the right decision, not an emotional decision that could be expensive.
As The Executive’s Attorney, Dan Felix has assisted scores of employees, independent contractors, professionals and free agents understand, negotiate and litigate the legal aspects of employment, including both hiring issues such as employment contracts, and separation issues such as severance agreements. For legal help regarding two week’s notice and separation issues contact Dan at DanFelix@The-Executives-Attorney.com, or check out Dan’s website at http://The-Executives-Attorney.com.
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