Two Week Notice
One question most employee ask when they find a new job is, "Do I have to give my current employer two weeks’ notice?” Currently, there are no federal or state laws that require an employee to provide two weeks’ notice to their employer before quitting.
Most states, including California, apply at-will doctrine of employment. At-will means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.
Thus, neither the employer nor the employee is required to give the other any notice that the employment relationship will end, but sometimes there are practical reasons to give at least two weeks’ notice before quitting their current job.
If the employee has signed an employment contract that requires advanced notice of quitting (for example, 2 weeks’ notice or maybe even more), the employee has a binding legal obligation to give the notice or be in breach of the agreement unless the employer and employee have mutually agreed to modify or disregard any notice requirements. As such, to address the legalities of an employment separation, it may be necessary to consult an experienced employment attorney.
In addition, an employee handbook or manual or another form of written policy may require a notice. It is in an employee’s best interest to check with company policies before leaving a job to learn more about their legal rights and responsibilities. While it is very common for employers to require two weeks’ notice, they may request more than just two weeks. It is common for businesses, to ask its managers and supervisors to provide more than 2 weeks' notice because it often takes more time to hire a replacement and get them up-to-date on their duties and responsibilities.
Generally, an employee is not usually legally obligated to provide notice before quitting their current job, many employers penalize employees who do not give advanced notice. Such penalties may include the employee forfeiting accrued but unused vacation leave or other accrued benefits. California requires employers to pay any unused vacation time in the last paycheck. Employees can only challenge a business over accrued PTO if the employer explicitly promised to pay unpaid vacation time in the final paycheck.
Another reason to give the employer two weeks’ notice is simply it's an act of common courtesy. The employer has some time to find a replacement so that there is less disruption with business operations. It also may allow, if enough time is given, the replacement employees or current team members a chance to learn about their job duties from the employee’s departures during the transition period.
Providing advanced notice of leaving gives colleagues the chance to adjust to the change and prepare for a possible increase in workload if a replacement if not hired before the employee quits.
Giving official resignation notice may also help preserve a professional relationship between the employer and the former employee and could result in a positive future reference.
Providing an advance notice encourages a positive professional relationship, which may leave the door opened for future employment if the employer chooses. It also increases the likelihood that the employee is leaving on good terms with coworkers which pay off when those co-workers move into positions with hiring authority.
Perhaps the main legal benefit of giving notice pertains to the payment of wages. In California, if an employee quits or resigns without providing prior notice to the employer, the employer generally has to make the employee’s final payment available within 72 hours.
However, if the employee provides at least 72 hours’ notice of their intention to quit, the employer has to make final wages available at the time of quitting.
Q: If an employee decides to give advanced notice, how should it be done?
A: If an employee decides to give an advanced notice of resigning their job, there is not a specific way to do so, but the type of job the employee will be leaving may determine the formality of the notice. For instances, a person in management may want to submit a formal letter of resignation, including the specific date of the final day of work and their signature, to their manager or the human resources department. Whereas a store clerk may need a less formal resignation letter and instead provide notice to their direct supervisor face-to-face, by email to HR, or, if appropriate by text.
Q: Is there a way to prevent employees from quitting without notice?
A: Turnover is part of running a business – particularly small ones. Losing an employee is bad enough, but when it’s seemingly out of nowhere, it can be harmful to any business operations and morale. To improve employee retention, start with maintaining an open dialogue with employees about your organization’s culture and how best to overcome challenges. Sometimes, having those conversations prevents unexpected departures. Two weeks’ notices may not be a requirement, but it can be an expectation – one detailed in the employee handbook. This way, employees can anticipate how to best resign.
Q: What should employers do if an employee quits without notice?
A: If an employee quits on the spot, mitigating the impact is the employer's top priority. If positions go unfilled, it could hurt productivity, and harm relationships and business. It is usually best to make a swift assessment of the position the employer is losing and reassign tasks to ensure operations are not interrupted. Th employer may be able to reassign duties without replacing the employee.
Losing a top-performing employee can be a considerable blow to your business, especially if the employee holds crucial knowledge of business operations or trade secrets. Under those circumstances, it may be advisable to persuade them to stay by offering additional compensation, vacation time or a promotion – or all three.
Q: How does an employer develop a resignation policy?
A: If the employer has a policy for terminating employees, it should establish a policy for employees quitting. If the employer plans for the unexpected, the better prepared it will be for employee departures. There are some expectations and rules the employer should clearly establish in its company policy on quitting, including:
State that you require substantial notice. If you expect employees to give two weeks’ notice when they quit, specify that in the official policy – as well as the consequences for breaking this rule, such as the employee never being able to work for the company again.
Get it in writing. To protect everyone, the employee’s notice of resignation should be in writing, either on a company form or in a notice letter. It should include why the employee is leaving and their effective departure date. If an employee chooses to resign verbally, they should send confirmation of that notice to their manager shortly afterward.
Clarify the employer's rehiring rules. Employees leave for various reasons – often for better opportunities, to attend to family matters, or because they were laid off. Sometimes, those employees want to return. As such, the employer's policy should include guidelines on rehiring former staff. Many companies will rehire employees who were let go because of a reduction in the workforce or voluntarily resigned. Those who were let go because of performance or insubordination usually aren’t hired back – and the employer should spell this out clearly in its company’s disciplinary action policy.
Q: What else can an employer do about turnover?
A: With or without notice, an employee leaving can put any business in a bind. There are, however, some things an employer can do to ease the transition. Small businesses may be at a budgetary disadvantage when it comes to training several people for one task, so cross-training employees should be an ongoing process, not a one-off when an employee quits.
Employee turnover can happen even at the best companies. It can make or break a business, depending on how prepared the employer is to handle it. If the employer builds a pipeline of potential candidates for its key roles, losing one employee won’t be devastating. It is always important to be sourcing inside and outside the organization. The employer may not need to recruit those people at the moment, but the employer will have a fresh list of job applicants to go to whenever necessary.
Finally, whenever an employee does quit, it’s important to conduct a substantive exit interview. This is the employer's opportunity to learn what the employee liked or disliked about working for the employer. It’s also an opportunity to collect company-owned property, desk keys or door entry cards. The exit interviews give the employer the opportunity to discuss the reasons for leaving and identify how the organization needs to change to better attract, develop, and retain top talent.
If you have any further questions or need any additional information about quitting notices, please contact me for a FREE confidential consultation at (916) 333-4653 or Stephen_Fiegel_Esq@comcast.net.
Copyright Law Office of Stephen Fiegel – All rights reserved.