46

If an employee tells their manager about plans to leave the company at a certain date or even hand in their resignation with a longer notice than required by the contract, there is the possibility that the company will fire the employee before the date the employee intended to leave.

This most recently came up in this question. If the employee has reasons to let the employer know earlier, they have to weigh the advantages of doing so against the risk the employer might choose to fire the employee in response.

That question led me to wonder what incentives the company would have to fire an employee they know will be leaving in six months time anyway.

If the company wanted to get rid of the employee anyway, I would not expect them to fire the employee any earlier than they otherwise would have. If they are in a jurisdiction where a termination requires a valid reason, they'll probably be happy they won't have to find one for this employee. And it's quite doubtful the resignation would constitute a valid reason for termination.

In the case of a good employee, I would expect the company to want to keep this employee for as long as they can. The longer they have this employee the more time they have to find and train a replacement.

I understand that by resigning, the employee may miss out on a bonus payout or additional training, and they are likely not going to get the most exciting work assignments. But are they actually likely to get fired?

What incentives would a company have to fire an employee once the employee has resigned or declared their intention to do so?

  • 10
    Do you mean specifically "Fire" and not just ask you to leave earlier? There can be a pretty huge difference depending on the job and location. In the US I believe firing takes a pretty significant justification. They could lay you off (let you go, whatever) early but then you'd get unemployment benefits you wouldn't be entitled to if you quit. – Bill K Dec 14 '18 at 18:55
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    @BillK If I understood "at will employment" correctly, there is no greater freedom to fire people on the spot for any reason than in the US. – nvoigt Dec 14 '18 at 19:09
  • 4
    @nvoigt Firing is dismissal with cause; by default, the employee is not eligible for unemployment benefits and the company's unemployment costs do not change. The employee has to make a case to the relevant authorities to gain unemployment benefits. In order to dismiss someone without cause, the company has to use a layoff, which has repercussions on the company's unemployment liabilities and their ability to replace the employee. – asgallant Dec 14 '18 at 19:40
  • 1
    One nitpick: While an informal term without a precise designation "fired" normally implies "with cause". Terms without that implication would include "terminated" or informally "let go". – TimothyAWiseman Dec 14 '18 at 22:40
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    @TimothyAWiseman I used the wording from this answer, which was the one that prompted me to ask the question. And really the question is intended to cover the scenario regardless of whether the company considers it to be with cause or not. – kasperd Dec 14 '18 at 22:49

15 Answers 15

56

I believe that the thinking behind having someone leave as soon as they put in their resignation is three-fold:

  1. They don't want to risk having the employee do something damaging on their way out (delete data, steal data, etc.)
  2. They don't want the employee hurting morale by explaining to everyone why they are leaving (boss stinks, better opportunities elsewhere, etc.)
  3. Given ramp-up times, likely counterproductive to put the employee on something new, so they can only do what they have been doing, thus they are (depending on the circumstances) less useful.

These aren't necessarily great reasons. There are obviously multiple downsides, including disincentivizing people to giving you early warning that they are going to leave, losing their knowledge and productivity, hurting employee morale by treating them harshly, paying unemployment to the employee, etc.

  • 26
    +1 I would just add that there are two more reasons. 1)Malice some people are just nasty. 2)Just because they can. – Retired Codger Dec 14 '18 at 16:30
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    @Ant That depends on where in the world you are. For example, many US states allow “at will” employment, which means you can be fired for absolutely any reason or no reason at all; the employer is never required to articulate any reason, and unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was due to some form of illegal discrimination (racism, sexism, etc.), there’s zero recourse available to the employee. And plenty of places in the world don’t even have any kind of worker protection laws, and quite possibly lack any means to enforce them if they did exist. – KRyan Dec 14 '18 at 19:36
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    @Ant depends heavily on the jurisdiction. That's not the case in much of the USA (so called at-will states). I see KRyan posted something similar at the same time. Editing to add - a severance package is likely to be much cheaper than losing a cash-cow client, or facing a lawsuit, or cultural fallout from an unhappy employee, etc etc. These policies are about mitigating risk and often companies are willing to pay a fixed amount in order to avoid a small chance at a much bigger risk. – dwizum Dec 14 '18 at 19:36
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    One more reason - they may want to let the employee go earlier just to prevent them getting any new/additional intellectual property/ideas/new products, etc. – Bleh Dec 14 '18 at 20:41
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    The normal way this happens in sensitive positions, like banks, is an employee is required to give two weeks notice. The employee gives the minimum notice necessary, they are escorted out of the building and told to stay home, and they are then paid for the two weeks of sitting at home. This avoids security and morale issues while not having to fire the individual, reducing the risks of lawsuits and unemployment issues. – user71659 Dec 14 '18 at 21:58
24

If an employee has relationships with a number of clients, the employer may not want to take the risk that the employee will take the clients with them when they leave or work against the employers best interests.

  • 3
    This is a good valid point, not unknown for a leaving employee to use the company network to talk to clients with the intention of taking them over. – Kilisi Dec 14 '18 at 15:36
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    This is short-sighted of the employers; if the client likes the employee enough to jump ship with them, they will notice when that employee no longer works for the company, and track them down. Also, if the employee was planning to do this, it'd have been piss-easy to do it before they gave notice. I'm not criticizing your answer, to be clear, as I'm sure this is the logic some people use -- I'm criticizing their logic. – Nic Hartley Dec 14 '18 at 18:48
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    @NicHartley The clients typically won't know the employee left and opened his own business and they likely will not go looking for him on their own. However, the employee might take a thousand contact addresses with him and then contact his old clients. – Frank Hopkins Dec 14 '18 at 19:39
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    @Darkwing I mean, I can only speak from experience -- my father has had clients explicitly ask where he works after he leaves a job, so they can switch to his new company. He doesn't tell clients that he's leaving. They find out because he's no longer in meetings, or because they're connected on LinkedIn. And it's unlikely that they'd bother with the expenses of switching unless they really, really liked that specific employee, so my reasoning is that if they like the employee that much, they'll do it with or without the employee's input. – Nic Hartley Dec 14 '18 at 20:28
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    @NicHartley There are cases where the connection is that personal, but there are others where it's not and then it can be a valid strategy. Consider a call center for granny bus tours. If you go to a competitor and already know the phone numbers of a hundred grannies that are easy to scam, err, convince you are offering great experiences with a bus tour where you can win cheap, err, totally awesome appliances that can be a major boost for your cold calling team... – Frank Hopkins Dec 14 '18 at 20:46
14

I agree completely with Jim Clay's answer. There is one thing I would like to add. Sometimes an employer may actually get angry at certain employees when they resign, and fire them in a fit of rage, specially if the employer feels he/she has looked after the employee well and given them all they have asked for.

8

Firing an employee might also give them the ability to claim unemployment. That being said, the employer might "fire" (lay off) a resigning employee as a courtesy to the employee, to allow them to collect unemployment.

Typically, when I hear about this, it's generally the employer letting someone who has given their two weeks stay at home for that time so they don't cause damage. Avoiding damage is probably the biggest reason.

  • 1
    I was once "fired" because my firm was too small for me to collect COBRA otherwise before my new position across the country. Only 2 people too small. Without it, my pregnant wife would have been without insurance until 3 months into my new job. I had a rough time at that place, but even they weren't going to kick a young pregnant couple to the curb!! – corsiKa Dec 15 '18 at 2:51
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    Letting somebody stay at home, revoking their access to critical systems is neither getting fired, let go or laid off. It's called garden leave and it's fully paid. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_leave Firing somebody so they "can live off of unemployment" is wrong in so many ways... – nvoigt Dec 15 '18 at 10:04
  • @nvoigt you don't live off of unemployment for very long. I think the maximum amount of time you can take for that in the USA is 6 months and I don't believe it's full pay. – user53651 Dec 17 '18 at 16:54
  • 1
    I think if you are fired after you quit, you can only collect unemployment for the time between the firing and the scheduled quit date. That said, a company that is willing to fire someone for their own benefit, would probably be willing to lose or refuse to accept the resignation letter. – stannius Dec 17 '18 at 19:32
7

I want to play this a different way (especially since you don't state your location/country...

In some countries (eg. Denmark), when employees resign they have to give "current +1 month" notice, while the employer typically has to give current plus (at least) 3 months notice.

So, if the relationship is good, and the employee has not actually quit outright, a boss might choose to work out a "mutual agreement" and thus provide the employee with a better exit.

I expect Americans to object to this scenario as "theoretical", but I've personally seen it happen more than once, with good workers who just could not grow any further in their current employments.

  • I didn't specify a location because I am not facing that particular scenario myself. My question came up from multiple earlier questions I have read on this site. The most recent of those questions happens to be from a US employee. But my question was intended to be a bit more general than that. I didn't realize how much the location affects the possible answers as I was asking about incentives rather than specifics of local regulations. So it's good to get a perspective from different countries. – kasperd Dec 14 '18 at 20:38
  • I am from Denmark myself, so I am aware of Danish notice periods. Though I have worked most of my career abroad in countries where employees doesn't have as good protection. There has been other advantages to working abroad though. – kasperd Dec 14 '18 at 20:39
5

You play a dangerous game by giving a very advanced notice of leaving. If a person says they will leave in 6 months, the employer will try to find a replacement knowing that it will take a while but perhaps before 6 months. So they put out ads, then interview and hire. Since they can't pay both people, they fire the one leaving. A lot of younger workers feel like they have a obligation to their employer and want to do them favors but reality is they may not be favorable to you.

My thought, try to minimize your notice period as allowed by your contract or country. So in the USA, you give a 2 weeks notice to leave on good terms. If your contract is longer than 2 weeks notice, then prepare beforehand by saving up money to cover that notice period in case you get let go of earlier.

  • 2
    This is not at all answering the question and while it is "conventional wisdom" I also think, it's not true. – Hilmar Dec 14 '18 at 15:49
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    I told my manager I was retiring months in advance. He found that information useful in the budgeting process. What I'm doing has been adjusted to short-range things so I'm still useful. – David Thornley Dec 14 '18 at 16:02
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    Retiring is a very different thing; I think in many cases if you've worked somewhere for ~20 years and you're about to retire on a pension (if those even exist anymore ;) ) there's much lesser risk of this issue; but for anyone else... I agree with dan. Would not give more than about 2 weeks notice for similar reasons. Though I work in IT, where many companies will walk you a-s-a-p to prevent stealing data, damaging things, etc – schizoid04 Dec 14 '18 at 16:10
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    I've done way more than two weeks and also had employees giving me more than two weeks. Each time that was appreciated and worked quite well. – Hilmar Dec 14 '18 at 16:15
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    @Hilmar My answer is more to do with the idea of preparing to leave and the risks associated with it. I'm assuming finance is a big risk factors especially if you're fired 3 months into a 6 months notice and if you're prepared for that. Not so much if it is benefiting to your employer or not. If I was a "good guy" and gave my employer advanced notice, I would also assume I made smart choices in preparations of my finances in case of a problem. If the employer let me go prior, I know I made a good choice in leaving and would have less of a impact to me financially. – Dan Dec 14 '18 at 17:30
3

Far more common than firing someone is passing you over for pay rises or promotions.

For example I know someone who gave a 6 month notice of their intent to leave. 1 month later in our regular annual pay reviews he got very low raise, much less than he would normally expect (it may even have been zero, it was a long time ago) and I remember him being annoyed. Even though he was leaving anyway it would still have been nice to have that pay rise for the time he was there, although management clearly figured there was no point spending money on a raise for people who are leaving anyway.

  • It's plausible that it can work the other way around as well. The employer may give a significant rise in order to motivate an employee to stay. Though they probably wouldn't do that to an employee who already handed in their resignation unless the employee had said a raise would get them to change their mind. – kasperd Dec 15 '18 at 0:10
  • This is more of a comment on an alternate possible situation rather than an answer to the question being asked. – V2Blast Dec 16 '18 at 2:38
2

I have a colleague who announced his plans to retire semi-publicly about a year ago by talking with his boss and random other colleagues (including me) about his very concrete plans to go freelance on another continent.

I am not his boss, but I am in a position where I partly decide - by giving opinionated input which usually "counts" - what projects he would work on; often he would work in my own projects. Since he announced that, it has become really complicated for me. I am torn between the fact that he is about to leave, and the fact that I need to have him working on something. I need to find jobs that are short-term enough while not underutilizing him (he's high-skilled).

I can never be sure when he will hand in his actual resignation. Maybe something changes and he gets off the idea of emigrating; maybe it comes tomorrow.

So far so good, up to this point it's all just business as usual. After all, you can never be sure about anybody staying for eternity. But the worst thing is that he quite obviously behaving in a way which definitely includes the thought that the next few weeks are his last ones, for the whole year. I.e., he clearly has "quit internally" already, and I daresay he does not act in a way that makes me think he is thinking in the least about his future in our company - which he clearly isn't.

Now, I live in a country where firing people is very hard, and he does fill a sorely missing niche right now, so we are not firing him. But I can totally understand how in a culture (U.S.) where firing is quick and easy, managers just do not want to live with this.

1

Depending on what area you're from it is likely illegal for a company to fire an employee without reasonable explanation otherwise they can risk being sued. This is not to say it doesn't happen, but often companies will try and deliberately find any valid reason to fire an employee who is leaving because of the following reasons.

  • An employee who is set to leave over a mid-period of time, is likely to start a project then end up leaving half way through. Not only does this affect productivity as they'll be one person short, it also leaves a gap in the project that someone will have to pick up the pieces from.

  • Depending on the job role, an employee may need training. So if they plan to replace the employee who is leaving as soon as they leave. They may want to start training with someone new as soon as possible whilst avoiding paying two people at once to essentially fill the same role. If a development style role, then likely the new employee will take some time to understand and be briefed on the project before continuing where the resigning employee left off.

  • Client facing employees - If an employee is client facing you do not want someone who is resigning to be building relationships with external clients as it can look bad on your company reputation especially if the leaving employee mentions things such as bad experiences.

  • The employee could be leaving with a negative reason such as not enjoying working at the company and disliking the policies that the company holds. You don't want this employee to start communicating with other colleagues and clients.

Other reasons may include finding a new candidate quicker than expected and therefore avoiding paying two people at once, fire the person who's already leaving. This way you save money and will have a spare worker to intake long-term projects without causing the inconvenience of someone leaving.

  • 1
    In some jurisdictions, there's a significant difference between being fired (often stated as "fired for cause" & requires a reason) and the employer just ending the employment (often called "let go" or "laid off" (although, that one often has specific meaning); being "at will", no reason required). For example, in some jurisdictions, being "fired for cause" results in the employee not being eligible for unemployment payments (similar to not being eligible for such payments if you resign), whereas if the employee is "let go" or "laid off" then the employee is eligible for unemployment payments. – Makyen Dec 14 '18 at 17:04
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    I wouldn't be surprised if some (bad) management used the first reason, I just feel compelled to point out that it's backwards--if someone gives you long notice then you can arrange so that they are on a project that wraps up before they leave. On the other hand, if they are afraid to give you long notice then you may put them on a project that is at a critical point when they give you a minimum length notice. – user3067860 Dec 14 '18 at 22:58
1

Not as bad as outright malice on the part of the employee but there is also a perception of "short timer's syndrome" where an employer may believe someone on their way out isn't going to put in the effort of someone who is sticking around.

  • 1
    That certainly depends on the circumstances under which the employee is leaving. At one point I resigned from a company where employees were basically expected to put in many unpaid overtime hours. I sure wasn't as keen on those overtime hours after resigning, but did put in the expected effort during the normal working hours. Another time I resigned from a company which had treated me well, and I really put in a lot of effort to finish off tasks during my notice period. On my last day I was still in the office after everybody else had left. – kasperd Dec 14 '18 at 21:43
0

In addition to the reasons mentioned in other answers, personal spite can play into this, as sad as it is to say. In one job I had, I found out that my predecessor had been fired. The official reason I first heard was that the guy was not working when he was required to be.

Eventually a more complete story came out: Apparently my predecessor and the boss had been friends before he was hired. From what I understood, they had a falling out over things in the workplace. My predecessor submitted the standard two week notice. On his last day on the job he took a (very) long lunch. The boss, who was still upset over the falling out and resignation, changed the employee's departing status from "resigned" to "fired with cause", which could lead to problems for the former worker if he would try to collect unemployment benefits or when applying for future jobs.

0

While I fully agree with most of the answers given, something I did not see anywhere is if the employee is still coming up to speed and they give notice, there is no point in continuing to train (and pay) them and I would expect the company to let them go by whatever means.

I hired an employee because he seemed like he could do the work. After he started, I found out he was commuting about 90 minutes each way. After about two months, he decided the commute was too much and signed up for a job closer to home. When he gave his notice, the boss told him, "Don't wait two weeks, just go." The boss's explanation to me was it takes six months to be fully functional with our software and there was no point in keep him on.

0

In the case of a good employee, I would expect the company to want to keep this employee for as long as they can. The longer they have this employee the more time they have to find and train a replacement.

But what if they managed to find a replacement rather quickly? Maybe the company only chooses to fire the employee once they've secured a replacement; at which point they'd prefer not paying both the old and new employee, thus firing the old one.

Or maybe they were already trying to cut back on staff, and this employee unknowingly offered themselves as a sacrifice for immediate termination.


What incentives would a company have to fire an employee once the employee has resigned or declared their intention to do so?

1

Your question and most of the answers are based on getting the employee out quicker by firing them. But as you didn't specify a region, there's an important consideration that it may be the other way around.

Due to worker protection laws in Belgium, for example, the notice period for when the company fires you is meaningfully longer than when the employee resigns. It varies, but to give you a personal example: if resigned today I'd have a two or three week notice. If I were fired today, I'd have a two or three month notice. Notice can only be shortened (or lengthened) when there is a mutual agreement between the employer and employee.

I've seen this happen before to close family of mine. The company fired the employee simply so they could ensure having the employee around for the next few months. This was someone who had worked 15+ years at the company and their notice period was around 6 months.

2

Another possible reason, although this is strangely vindictive, would be to make it harder for the employee to find work after having been fired, as opposed to resigning. In some sectors, being fired can make future employers less eager to hire you. However, there are significant costs attached to firing an employee as opposed to letting them resign, so it seems a misuse of company funds if a manager were to explicitly fire a resigning employee just to spite them.

3

Some jobs have preferring hiring windows. For example, consider teacher positions. For reference: the school year starts in September and ends in June. A teacher might announce their resignation, meaning they'd leave during the school year; but the optimal hiring window for teachers is July/August. Staff hires in the middle of the year are usually a last resort - and even then school tend to stick with temps until the end of the year.

So a school could choose to terminate their resigning employee during the school break so they can hire a new teacher at a time where many applicants are available; without needing to pay double to have the old and new teacher employed at the same time.

-1

If you have a good relationship with your manager, he might fire you so that you can get the benefit of the company's severance package, and possibly government unemployment payouts while you're waiting to start your new job. This generally doesn't come out of his budget, so he has little to lose from this minor scam against the company. If it happened frequently, upper management might catch on and start to monitor firings, but if it's just a one-off for good employees who leave on friendly terms they probably won't notice.

  • That isn't firing that's making some one redundant – Neuromancer Dec 16 '18 at 0:02
  • In my experience, "redundant" is usually used to refer to layoffs, where the position is going away. When someone is fired, the position remains and someone else (e.g. a new hire) takes it over. E.g. the recent news about GM shutting down 5 plants will make all those workers redundant. – Barmar Dec 17 '18 at 16:23
-1

The simplest interpretation: In the moment when the employer is convinced (correctly or not) that a position which will be empty soon is filled with a new hire/another employee, then paying the additional money to keep the person who resigned makes only sense until the person can take over the job. Given that knowledge the most economic reasonable decision is to minimize the payments to the person who resigned as far as possible.

Only give your resignation early if the team you are working with is so overloaded that they have more than one person lacking...

protected by Jane S Dec 15 '18 at 3:20

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