The Myth of the Two Weeks’ Notice Requirement

It is not uncommon for an employee to get a new job. When this happens, it is natural and important for the employee to ask, “do I have to give two weeks’ notice to my boss?” And typically, the short answer is, “No.” However, it isn’t always that easy and there may be practical reasons for an employee to provide at least two weeks’ notice before quitting their current employment.

Are there legal requirements, including at-will rules, that require employees to give two weeks notice?

There are no federal or state laws that require an employee to provide two weeks’ notice to his or her employer before quitting. As we discussed in our previous blog, “The Difference Between the Terms ‘At-Will’ and ‘Right-to-Work’“, all states except Montana have adopted the at-will rule which is a common-law doctrine that defines most employment relationships. Excluding exceptions, the at-will doctrine gives an employer the right to terminate an employee at any time, without cause or any reason. Likewise, employees are also allowed to leave their employment at any time and without a reason. Thus, neither the employer nor the employee is required to give the other any notice that the employment relationship will end.

What if the employee has signed an employment contract that requires advanced notice of quitting?

Employment contracts fall under the at-will exceptions. Generally speaking, employment contracts do not secure indefinite employment and/or have requirements and protections governing the employment relationship that are different from at-will requirements. However, an employment contract typically includes procedures for terminating the employment contract. This means, if the contract terms require two weeks’ notice or maybe even more, the employee has a binding legal obligation to give the notice or be in breach of the agreement. There may be circumstances, however, when the employer and employee may mutually agree to modify or disregard any notice requirements. Each state may have specific laws related to employment contracts; therefore, to address the legalities of an employment separation, it may be necessary to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law.

What if the employer has a company policy that requires advanced notice of quitting?

Employers may ask employees to provide advanced notice when they decide to resign. The request is usually included in an employee handbook or manual or another form of written policy. Also, although it is very common for employers to require two weeks’ notice, they may request more than just two weeks. For example, it is not uncommon for businesses, to ask managers and supervisors to provide at least four weeks’ notice or more because it often takes more time to hire and onboard a replacement.

Regarding requests for advanced notice, most employers with employee handbooks or manuals explicitly adopt the at-will rules discussed above. Because of this, an employee is not obligated to provide notice before quitting their current job. However, although an employee is generally not required to comply with the policy, many employers penalize employees who do not give advanced notice, where permissible under state law. Such penalties may include the employee forfeiting accrued but unused vacation leave or other accrued benefits. Employers may not penalize the employee but may try to encourage employees to give two weeks’ notice by offering severance pay. Moreover, although employers are typically required to comply with their own rules, they may choose to release an employee from their employment immediately if they don’t give sufficient notice, although this may make the employees eligible for unemployment when they would not have been otherwise.

If an employee doesn’t have to give two weeks’ notice, why should they?

Although an employee is usually permitted to quit their job without giving a notice period, there are several reasons to do so:

  • From an employee’s perspective, giving an employer two weeks’ notice is an act of common courtesy. It gives the employer 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.
  • The impact of an employee quitting is affected by coworkers and giving advanced notice of leaving gives colleagues the chance to adjust to the change and prepare of an 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. Sometimes, although not required, the act of courtesy and demonstrated professionalism is rewarded with a positive future reference.
  • It 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.

If an employee decides to give advanced notice, how should they do it?

If an employee decides to give their employer advanced notice of resigning their job, there is not a specific way to do so, although the type of job the employee will be leaving may dictate how formal the notice should be. For example, a supervisor may want to submit a formal letter of resignation that provides the specific date of the final day of work and their signature to their manager or the human resources department. Whereas a cashier at a store may not need to provide a formal resignation letter or two weeks’ notice letter but instead can provide notice of their last day of work, for example, to their direct supervisor face-to-face, by email to HR, or, if appropriate under the circumstances, by text.

Conclusion

In closing, there is a myth that all employees are required to give their employers two weeks’ notice before quitting. In fact, it is simply a matter of choice in most instances. Naturally, choosing to give a two weeks’ notice or the most notice practicable under the circumstances is a professional courtesy, employees should consider providing their employers. It is a professional way of terminating an employment relationship that can have a significant positive future impact.