Waiting 30 days to start an exciting new job can seem like an eternity, especially if you want to leave your current one now. It would be rare, but if you work for a company that requires four-week advance notice to resign, you might have to wait it out. Otherwise, you could be penalized financially or your reputation could be tarnished, neither of which is good when you're moving into a new career phase. Bottom line? Your employer can't require you to give a four-week advance notice unless you have an employment agreement that specifies that you must do so.
The common notice period employees give is two weeks. But some employers prefer more advance notice for time to wrap up projects, get status reports and have you help select and train your replacement. Regardless of the role you play in the organization, giving a four-week notice can have a positive reflection on your character and work ethic. It's also a benefit for business continuity because you're lending your expertise and time to train a new employee on every aspect of your job.
Employment-at-will is a doctrine upon which many private sector employers base their right to end the working relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason, with or without advance notice. However, the doctrine evolved so that workers wouldn't be be forced to toil on behalf of companies for which they didn't want to work. Therefore, the employment-at-will doctrine also gives employees the right to end their employment without advance notice.
Based on bilateral interpretation of at-will employment, many employers devise ways to penalize employees for not giving notice. It's not unusual to see workplace policies that state an employee who doesn't give sufficient notice will forfeit her accrued vacation pay or will be deemed ineligible for rehire. Policies like these are intended to force employees to give notice. But if you really don't think staying in your job is in your best interest, you can pay the price and move on.
Some states address the issue of what employers can and cannot do concerning an employee's notice. For example, under no circumstances can a California employer make you forfeit vacation pay based on your notice period. California law equates accrued vacation with earned wages, and it's illegal to deny payment of earned wages to employees. State laws also vary regarding when you receive your final pay, based on your notice period. Oregon law says the employer must issue your final paycheck immediately if you give 48 hours' notice. However, if you simply walk out on the job with no notice, an Oregon employer has five days or until the next scheduled payday to issue your final paycheck. No state or federal law addresses the issue of a four-week notice.
Many high-level directors and executives have employment contracts with specific conditions concerning how to terminate the working relationship, usually through advance written notice. In this case, if your contract requires that you give four weeks' notice, you are required to do so. Failure to give sufficient notice may result in a legal action against you for breach of contract.
- Legal Voice: Termination of Employment
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: The Employment-at-Will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions
- Nolo: Chart: Final Paychecks for Departing Employees
- Entrepreneur: Do I Still Have to Pay an Employee Through Their 2 Weeks Notice?
- State of California, Department of Industrial Relations: Vacation
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.