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I work for an organization (and have been there for over a year) that requires you to give 3 months' notice for leaving.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we have all been furloughed since May and have recently been told a large number of redundancies are going to be made 'later this year'.

I naturally want to find another job and even have a potential job offer already. The problem is, no reasonable company or organization is willing to wait 3 months. One month is standard.

Can I just leave early and only give my organization 1 month notice? If I do, what are the potential repercussions? It feels like they put this into contracts to keep you locked into them.

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    In this furlough are you getting any money or benefits from the company? Are you collecting unemployment? – mhoran_psprep Jun 19 at 10:20
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    @mhoran_psprep furlough in UK means that he is getting 80% of his pay still, but from the gov - not the company. In exchange the company is keeping him employed on paper. – Tymoteusz Paul Jun 19 at 10:23
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    @mhoran_psprep the post is tagged UK though. – Tymoteusz Paul Jun 19 at 10:26
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    The furlough topic is interesting and maybe we need a UK equivalent to this US question but we need an answer on the main question here as well I think. – Lilienthal Jun 19 at 10:59
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Three months can make it tough - depending on the role some companies are certainly prepared to wait that long for the right candidate. Longer notice periods tend to track with more senior positions and most companies know that so I wouldn't rule out a company accepting the notice period as is.

Can I just leave early and only give my organization 1 month notice? If I do, what are the potential repercussions?

Furlough or not you can't simple decide to unilaterally ignore your existing contractual notice period. Potential repercussions? Depends how annoyed the company is and how much you leaving early hurts them - certainly it can get unpleasant and legal. It's rare for it to get to that but its not unheard of. Its not merely burning bridges though - its nuking them into piles of ash.

It feels like they put this into contracts to keep you locked into them.

It's usually done so they can ensure a decent hand over and to minimize the disruption to the business when an employee leaves unexpectedly - it also protects you since if they want to get rid of you you get longer to work out something else. This may sound harsh but if you didn't like it you shouldn't have agreed to it in the first place, I've negotiated smaller notice periods when agreeing employment contracts in the past.

That said even when you're in the situation you find yourself in there's usually some wiggle room to negotiate an earlier release - talk to them, ask whether they would be willing to agree to a shorter notice period and what they would require from you in terms of handover (if any) for that to happen. If they are looking at making redundancies anyway they might even bite your hand off at the offer.

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    "Furlough or not you can't simple decide to unilaterally ignore your existing contractual notice period." - actually you can, whenever the employer's actions are in restraint of trade. If employers aren't generally known to wait 3 months to get a hire, then in general a 3 month notice period will be struck down as unreasonably restrictive (if the employer went to court, that is). – Steve Jun 19 at 11:43
  • "If they are looking at making redundancies anyway they might even bite your hand off at the offer.", In the 2008 crisis I had it even the other way around. After I handed in my notice, the company asked me to shorten my notice period. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jun 19 at 11:46
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    @Steve Three months is common in the UK for specialist staff – thelem Jun 19 at 12:16
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    @thelem, the question is how many employers actually wait 3 months for a new hire? I'd say it's unheard of outside senior management (or the equivalent of a director in a smaller firm of a few hundred employees), and the fact that many employers are routinely attempting to impose notice periods which exceed the willingness of other employers to wait, does not itself establish their enforceability (in fact it suggests the opposite). – Steve Jun 19 at 12:52
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    @Steve The alleged reluctance of employers to wait (certainly I've never had a potential one who wouldn't) doesn't itself establish the un-enforceability of them either - and I've never heard of a 3 month symmetrical notice being thrown out in court. Conversely I have heard of much longer ones being upheld. But this is largely moot, reduced notice gets mutually agreed all the time and when all the circumstances suggest that the OP is in a good position to negotiate an early exit just walking away is the nuclear option here. – motosubatsu Jun 19 at 13:49
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Notice periods vary by role. 3 months is a fairly common notice period for a senior software developer in the UK and even junior developers in some companies. If your role is one where a 3 month notice period is common, then it won't be a surprise to the recruiting company and in normal times many would be willing to wait 3 months for the right candidate.

These are not normal times though. Many people are being made redundant, so where a company may normally have struggled to find a good candidate they may now have a choice of good candidates, some of whom will have recently been made redundant and have no notice period at all. Unless you've got something special to offer over those candidates, your notice period could be the deal breaker.

Your situation has also changed. You are aware that your role is likely to become redundant. If that happens, your employer will have redundancy costs and would like to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies. They may offer an attractive voluntary redundancy package (especially to employees who have been at the company for several years). If you think this is likely, then you could remain in your current role until that package is announced and the apply for the package. If you don't want to do that, then you can ask for a reduced notice period. For a furloughed employee who is likely to be made redundant there is very little reason for the company to hold you to your notice period.

Standard advice is only to ask for a reduced notice period once you have a firm offer of a new job, because it makes you look disloyal to your existing employer. You've already been told about redundancies though, which changes that logic. If you've got a good relationship with your line manager you could ask them where they see the future of the company. Say you enjoy working there, but ask if they know anything about how the redundancies are likely to affect your team and whether they would advise you to be looking for other opportunities.

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It feels like they put this into contracts to keep you locked into them.

Notice period locks both parties in, which means that in most circumstances they cannot just outright fire you, but instead either have to keep you for the 3 months, or offer to pay you equivalent lump sum instead. By the same token this also protects the company from having employees leave on a short notice which can be destructive to operations.

But as (almost) every contract in life, if both parties agree it can be modified. Given that they've placed you on furlough and are planning layoffs, I don't see that there would be a big issue with them agreeing to reduce, or even completely waive off the notice period. Talk to your boss, explain the situation and see if you can agree on some middle ground, though honestly, as you are already furloughed then you leaving early should have no impact on the business, and you are only negotiation when you will leave, not whether you will.

Although I would shelve that matter until you have a job offer from another company and are negotiating around the start date. Otherwise you would be taking risks that I don't think are necessary or really give you any sort of benefit.

Can I just leave early and only give my organization 1 month notice? If I do, what are the potential repercussions?

You can, and there is likely to be very little in terms of monetary/legal repercussions, it's just not worth to chase it across civil courts. But it will be quite highly unprofessional thing to do (maybe less due to furlough and announced layoffs, though some people may not care about the reasons at all), and people who will see it happen in the current company will likely remember that in the future if your work paths ever cross again. So it is always best to try negotiations first, before reaching for the nuclear option.

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Anything in breach of your contract is a breach of your contract. There is no such thing as a "nice" breach of contract. If your contract says 3 month notice period, this is what you agreed to and this is what they will expect. If you don't give notice as required you might as well give no notice. There is no section in contract law that says "broke the contract, but tried to be nice about it". It's binary. You kept it or you didn't.

That said, a contract is something two parties agreed to, so that should they ever disagree, they can go back and look what should happen. What this means is that as long as the two parties consent, the contract can be changed in any way they see fit (as long as it's not illegal).

So your best option might be to contact your current company and ask if they would agree to a one-month notice period (while you are at it, maybe even shorter). Since they already hinted are in financial trouble, that's at least two less months they have to pay you. There is no real reasons for them to not change your contract and notice period.

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The problem is, no reasonable company or organization is willing to wait 3 months

If you look at any company in UK they know they NEED to wait. Because such requirment is a part of hiring senior, or specialized, employees. That 3 months is for both sides, company know they have enough time to hire replacement and for knowledge transition. Employee knows that they will have 3 months of pay if company decide to end the contract.

If you're a person with such contract it's a sign to company that you are valuable employee (enough to give you that 3 months buffer).

Anyway, in current situation talk with your company if the 3 months leave is necessary. I worked with many people who were "released from the obligation to work" or the time was shortened to one month.

When talking with HR about this tell what company will gain. One person less to worry "later this year", less costs to keep you hired for that time, etc. Ask HR how it could be done. I worked in companies that were happy to pay 3 months pay but the employees were not required to work but were just obliged (in appendix) to aswer questions by e-mail of phone if some knowledge transfer would be required.

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Notice period is always negotiable. If your company is in a situation where they put you on furlough (which means they could have laid you off put were nice enough to put 80% of your salary in your pocket), and they know you will stay on furlough for some time, and they know it is likely that they will have to let you go after that - what reason would they have to insist on three months notice? They can obviously, but it would be better for the company if they let you go with two weeks notice, and get you out of furlough for these two weeks so you can do a proper handover.

(For everyone not in the UK: Under furlough, you are paid 80% of your salary up to £2500 by the government, and you are NOT allowed to work for your company).

So just ask, and see what the answer is, before worrying about legalities and lawyers and so on. They might be happy to see you go.

BTW. Under furlough, you are not allowed to work for your company, but I think you are allowed to work for someone else. I have no idea what the financial consequences are, I can't quite imagine that the government would continue paying you, but your future employer would surely know.

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