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I am still on my probation and would like to quit, but I don't understand if my notice period is 1 week as per Clause 10.2 or 4 weeks Clause 10.3. I want to leave asap so I want to give 1 week of notice, but don't understand if they will accept it.

Here is the contract:

  1. Termination and Notice Period

10.2 [Subject always to Company’s right to terminate this Agreement without notice at any time in accordance with clauses 10.1 and/or 10.5, the period of notice required from you or the company to terminate your employment during or at the end of the Probationary Period will be one week.

10.3 Subject always to company’s right to terminate this Agreement without notice at any time in accordance with clauses 10.1 and/or 10.4, the period of notice required from you or company to terminate your employment during or at the end of the Probationary Period will be 4 weeks.

10.4 Subject always to company’s right to terminate this Agreement without notice at any time in accordance with clauses 10.1 and/or 10.5, after the successful completion of the Probationary Period, company may terminate your employment by giving you the following prior written notice:

10.4.1 in the first five years of continuous employment: 3 calendar month's notice;

10.4.2 once you have completed five years’ continuous employment: one week’s notice for each completed year of continuous employment up to a maximum of twelve weeks notice for twelve full years continuous employment or more.

10.5 After the successful completion of the Probationary Period, you are required to give company three months’ prior written notice to terminate your employment.

10.6 Notwithstanding clauses 10.2 and 10.3, company may in its sole and absolute discretion terminate your employment at any time and with immediate effect by notifying you that company is exercising its right under this clause 10.5 and that it will make a payment in lieu of notice (“Payment in Lieu”).

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    Honestly, 10.6 alone would be enough to make me want to quit (or not sign this contract in the first place), regardless of the mess of the rest of it. They want you to give three months notice when you quit, and offer in exchange... being able to terminate you at any time with immediate effect? No way. Jan 24 at 23:44
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    Bitter man, you are misunderstanding 10.6. It says for example that instead of giving you three months notice, the company can lay you off immediately and pay you compensation equivalent to three months salary. That’s what “payment in lieu of notice” means. You get the same money but don’t have to work. And if you find a new job quickly you can start it immediately because you are laid off and get paid twice.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 27 at 6:43

3 Answers 3

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I suspect clauses 10.2 and 10.3 are in conflict.

In addition, looking at the referenced clauses 10.4 and 10.5, it's evident that this is a poorly structured contract. Example, 10.4.1 says you must give 3 months notice, until the 5th year, in which you must give a week for every year worked. So, after 5 years, the required notice goes from 3 months to 5 weeks. This is almost certainly not intentional.

It's obvious to me that these clauses are an absolute mess, and no lawyer would be prepared to go to court to try to defend them.

There is a legal doctrine in the UK called contra proferentem, which specifies that parties that propose contracts are the ones that are to suffer their ambiguity.

Note that your employer cannot decline your letter of notice. If you've acted contra to your employment contract, they could potentially take you to court, but at the end of the day they cannot make you attend work.

Personally, I would feel comfortable enough giving one week's notice.

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  • Good answer. The one week also seems like the best choice because specific provisions are preferred over wider general provisions when they conflict. 10.2 more specifically applies to the OPs situation than 10.3. Which lines up with my gut feeling about this anyway. Jan 24 at 15:30
  • Absolutely. The contract is rubbish, but that can only work for you. You have to give one week notice because it is ambiguous between 1 and 4 weeks, the company has to give you for weeks notice because it is ambiguous between 1 and 4 weeks.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 27 at 6:49
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If you want to leave immediately no matter what (even having no new gig offered) and you are not sure which clause will apply to you just talk to HR (or even your manager if they are familiar with the terms in your contract) and ask them what clause will be applicable when resigning.

Then hand in your notice immediately and serve your notice-period the best you can - easy as that..

As @Gregory mentioned it's always wise to have a new job (a signed offer) lined up before handing in your notice.

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  • You can't talk to HR without showing your hand. Also lining up a new job is tricky if you don't know what your notice period is.
    – Hilmar
    Jan 24 at 13:19
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    @Hilmar As I commented before (now removed) - I read the OP's question as that they want to resign no matter what and leave as early as possible - so showing his cards would be part of that process. In regards to: "Also lining up a new job is tricky if you don't know what your notice period is." in this case it's either one or four weeks - so he would need clarification from HR anyways if he wants to line up a new gig (assuming he hasn't already)..
    – iLuvLogix
    Jan 24 at 13:22
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If that's a direct copy-and-paste, your employer has screwed up because 10.2 and 10.3 are inconsistent. It's pretty obvious 10.3 should say "after the Probationary Period" rather than "during or at the end of the Probationary Period".

Given that, there is no simple answer to this question. In reality, the chance of your employer actually doing anything if you say "I'm resigning, my last day is a week from now in accordance with Clause 10.2 of my contract" is so close to zero I wouldn't worry about it - they would have to try and sue you for breach of a badly written contract, and as noted in Gregory Currie's answer, UK courts will always tend to favour the party that did not draft the contract.

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  • If 10.3 is supposed to be "after the probationary period" then it is in conflict with 10.4. Also note that 10.4 says "12 weeks notice up to five years (technically three months notice) then five weeks notice after that, then increasing up to a maximum of twelve weeks? Who does that? I think this contract was written by a monkey with a typewriter. Jan 24 at 17:54
  • @DJClayworth Yeah, that was written when we had only 10.2 and 10.3 in the question. You're right it's a complete mess of a contract! Jan 24 at 18:00

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