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In the US it's customary to give two weeks' notice when you resign and it would be considered very unprofessional to resign immediately, even if you're legally allowed to. At the same time, it's often said that companies who escort employees out when they resign or who've shown that they'll make those last two weeks miserable for the employee have forfeited the right to have employees give notice.

While that does make sense, wouldn't it still reflect badly on me if I resigned without giving notice? I feel like the kind of companies who make giving notice impossible also wouldn't be beyond holding it against former employees when they "walk off the job". I could ask my next employer if I could start earlier if this happens but what if that's not an option and being out of a job for two weeks would be a financial burden?

If I know that my company won't respect my notice period, is it still unprofessional to resign with immediate effect? Should I have an explanation ready for (potential) future employers? If so, how can I word this without appearing to badmouth the company?


To be clear, I'm asking specifically about a company that dismisses resigning employees without pay. In some industries it's common to send people home or limit the work they're given but still pay them for the duration of their standard notice period. That practice is often called garden leave. And while I appreciate the concern in some of the comments I want to point out that this is intended as a canonical question, I'm not currently facing a situation like this.


Note that we have some related question that cover others aspects of this:

  • 2
    "would it reflect badly on me" and "is it unprofessional" seem a little too different. It's likely that it wouldn't reflect badly on you in this situation, yet still be unprofessional. – Brandin Sep 22 '16 at 6:39
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    "Customary" is irrelevant. What notice period does your contract of employment mandate? – TheMathemagician Sep 22 '16 at 10:39
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    @TheMathemagician The default situation in the US is "at will"; which means there's no contractual requirement for a minimum notice period on either side. It is however customary to give notice on either side to allow a smoother handoff of responsibilities. (In non-dsysfunctional workplaces anyway.) – Dan Neely Sep 22 '16 at 10:52
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    In all of my years in the workforce (31) and with many employers, I've never ever been asked if I gave notice. Not once. I've never even been casually asked after I got the job. In the years I was a manager, I was never asked in a reference check whether the person gave notice. Again, not even one time. I believe 2 week notice is nothing more than a courtesy, especially in an age where severance pay is almost non-existent. – Chris E Sep 22 '16 at 14:14
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    I have known companies that escorted people out as soon as they gave notice, especially for sensitive positions, but all of the companies that I have known have respected the notice period and paid people out for it. Are you certain your company won't pay you for the two weeks even if they walk you straight out the door? – Tim Kennedy Sep 23 '16 at 13:52

10 Answers 10

73

Should I still give two weeks' notice if I know my company won't honor a notice period?

In the US, the typical protocol is for the employee to give at least two weeks' notice, and for the employer to honor those two weeks. Unless you have a contract or local law that says otherwise, you aren't legally obligated to provide any notice, nor is the company legally required to honor such a notice period. You could choose to walk out at any time and they could choose to escort you out at any time without any severance. Still, most employees give a notice and most companies expect one. Some companies won't want you around for the two weeks, but will still pay for them.

A notice period is the professional thing to do for both sides and breaking that protocol may have consequences. Your reputation could suffer if you don't give a proper notice. And an employer's reputation could suffer if they don't honor a notice.

If you already know your employer's reputation for not honoring a notice period, and if your new employer won't allow you to start early for some reason, and if you would be financially burdened by missing out on two weeks' pay, then it only makes sense to hand in your resignation the day you wish to leave.

It may indeed feel "unprofessional", but you need to protect yourself first. You will be making a decision weighing your financial needs against a potential hit to your reputation.

I wouldn't be very worried about having to explain why you left so abruptly to future employers. Most employers wouldn't ask - it's just not a topic that comes up. Your immediate next employer need not know and would be understanding if you explained what happened. And any coworkers who witness your departure certainly understand your current employer's reputation, just as you do.

In general, I try hard to make sure I am prepared financially before I plan a move to a new job. Often accumulated vacation pay can tide you over to the next job. And many new employers would take you on as soon as you are available, even allowing you to start early, particularly if you ask them about that possibility ahead of time. But if you are convinced that your current employer won't honor a notice period, then you have the choice to act accordingly.

  • 7
    It depends on your job. Financial advisors with huge books built off of personal contacts give notice at the last minute of their last Friday, and they're calling clients about the move to the new firm or custodian all weekend. – Aaron Hall Sep 22 '16 at 14:19
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    A notice period is as much a courtesy to your soon-to-be-former coworkers as it is to your employer. After all they'll be the ones assuming your workload after you leave, at least until a replacement is hired. – DLS3141 Sep 22 '16 at 15:26
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    @JoeStrazzere then there's no point really. You co-workers will understand leaving with no notice and management may not like it, but you shouldn't starve over offering a customary courtesy that will not be respected. – DLS3141 Sep 22 '16 at 18:23
17

Should you? In the small scale of things: Maybe. If you fear that your (ex)employer will badmouth you and if you think that they won't do that if you give notice and if you believe you can't afford being badmouthed by an exploitative employer.

Since I'm not used to employers not honouring notice periods, I would assume their business behaviour in general to be on the very shady side. Thus I would fully expect them to badmouth people even if they gave notice, e.g. for other stuff like not working through weekends, not being on standby 24/7, or insisting on getting paid the agreed wages. If it indeed is a no-win situation like that, why risk to give notice?

Yet, I'm fully aware that sometimes the system is rigged against you and you just can't afford to go for justice and have to go for preserving your reputation in order to put food on the table in the next weeks/months/years.

In the large scale of things it may not be in your best interest as an employee to give notice if it's not reciprocal - because it removes (at least part of) the incentive for companies to honour notice periods as well. That way everyone ends up in a market where notice-giving is completely unilateral on the side of the employee, without any consideration given for it.

About wording your explanation to your next employer: Maybe "Two weeks notice was not common practice at my former employer" would do it - which conveniently leaves out the fact for whom it was not common practice - but maybe I'm not being as subtle as I hope because I'm not a native speaker.

  • @enderland I don't think I recall seeing a reference cited for any answer on this site, ever. Perhaps you mean to say that the question itself is too opinion-based to remain. It's also possible that you forgot to leave this comment on the other answers to this question as well. – Jason C Sep 22 '16 at 13:54
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    @JasonC this answer explicitly states the writer is not familiar with this practice. – enderland Sep 22 '16 at 14:09
  • @enderland You (just about) explicitly state that your problem is specifically with the fact that it's primarily an opinion. "My take on this" and "It may indeed feel 'unprofessional', but you need to protect yourself first." are equally opinion. It's a poor question, don't take it out on an arbitrary answer. If the bit about "having no experience" was edited out of this answer and the rest of the answer remained exactly the same, would you find it more acceptable? If so, something's broken. – Jason C Sep 22 '16 at 14:13
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    @JasonC are you ignoring the part where he said he's not familiar? There's nothing wrong with opinions as long as they have some particular experience behind them. – Chris E Sep 22 '16 at 14:17
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    @enderland Sorry, I don't get your implied request - what is it you want me to do? I think the question is hard to answer in general because it depends on the employee's specific situation. I've listed a few things that anybody reading my answer is free to consider and discard. I hope that Lilienthal (or anybody) else doesn't follow Stuff People On The Internet Said without considering if it applies to their situation. My personal experience in this regard is that trying too hard to please inconsiderate bosses doesn't pay off, rather the reverse: I just got pushed around more. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 22 '16 at 17:03
7

I would give notice and think it is in your best interest to do so. Your behavior is your responsibility.

I would also inform the other company (without bad-mouthing the current company) that they typically let employees go early (leave the part out about not paying), and then ask them if that happens to you could you start early? Most would be eager to have you start ASAP. Larger companies may not be able to accommodate full flexibility. (Like new employees only start on Monday.) However, it is possible that you could be sitting at your new desk within an hour of being shown the door.

Of course be prepared to be shown the door. Have your desk cleaned out ahead of time and a bit of money in the bank to make sure you can cover any unemployment.

Congratulations on the new position.

  • This seems like imposing significant inconvenience on your new employer because of your old employer's bad behavior. Many companies might be able to accommodate you, but having to scramble to do so is unlikely to create a favorable first impression. – Alex P Sep 23 '16 at 22:30
4

It occurs to me that in the specific case where you know the employer reliably shows employees the door the day they give notice, you could probably wait until the day you want to leave and give notice then. This leaves them nothing to badmouth, and you get to leave on the day of your choosing.

Of course, if they actually want you to work those 2 weeks you have a problem. Possibly you could tell your new employer (in advance) that there is a chance your current employer may need you a couple of weeks more than you expect, and, though you think it's highly unlikely that you won't have everything wrapped up on the expected date, it is a possibility, and if it does happen you want to leave on good terms.

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    This was my first thought, but I don't think it's an issue. The point is that there is no contractual obligation on either side. Thus the employee can leave whenever he/she wants. If there were contractual obligation then the course would be obvious: give two weeks' notice and your company has to pay you for them, whether they escort you straight off the premises or not. – Robert Grant Sep 23 '16 at 13:12
3

My take on this is that I'm not going to stoop to a level just because someone else is. If I have a notice period of two weeks that I agreed to I will honour it, because that is the professional and ethical thing to do.

In saying that, in an extremely toxic environment I have quit with zero notice and a hand gesture at all and sundry on the way out. But in normal circumstances I'd honour the 2 weeks. You can rationalise things any way you want, but at the end of the day if you agreed to a fortnight, anything less is going back on your word unless there is prior agreement.

So if I need to leave earlier I would request for a shorter notice period up front.

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    Keep in mind that the two week notice period in the US is largely an matter of unspoken convention. Asking about the notice period is in itself usually a red flag for a candidate. – Lilienthal Sep 22 '16 at 8:45
  • I would do the same if it was the normal convention, but I'd be on much stronger ground asking for a shorter period if I needed it obviously. It would depend on my reason for quitting. – Kilisi Sep 22 '16 at 8:50
  • Lilienthal believes he will not get payed for those two weeks, so it's not a contractual agreement. Not giving notice is a smart move in that environment because you get payed until you decide to leave. – daraos Sep 22 '16 at 9:49
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    Many employers have a section in their employee handbook about resignation and giving notice. Many employers will not consider re-hiring someone who quit without notice...but if you're considering it, it's probably NOT someplace you'd ever want to get re-hired – DLS3141 Sep 22 '16 at 14:57
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    @DLS3141 that's a great, objective reason, and should be in an answer somewhere IMO - this is something I wouldn't have thought to check for. I agree with your "probably", but can imagine a young person tight on cash leaving a big co, not wanting to lose 2 weeks pay but not wanting to close the door on coming back to company later in their career (I could have easily been in that situation with my first job). – user812786 Sep 22 '16 at 16:20
2

If it's true that

  1. Based on recent occurrences (same management team) that
  2. Competent, respected employees were
  3. Asked (didn't ask themselves) to leave the same day,

then I would offer my resignation on the last date that I was willing to work, without providing an end date. If all of the assumptions are true, they will most likely ask you to leave that day, and not even ask you your thoughts on the matter.

If they do ask, you'll have to say "I'm sorry, but based on previous experiences with [name] and [name], I assumed that today would be my last day."

There's the question - are you comfortable with that? If things play out as you're certain they will, no harm done. If you were wrong, and they ask you for an end date, then you've committed a small error. Still, even in that case, you can truthfully say that "two weeks notice was not common practice at my former employer." (Thanks for that phrase, SurprisedEuropean.)

  • Good points. Minor suggestions for the way you phrased this: "asked" perhaps isn't strong enough (required/requested/told/?), consider replacing "based on previous experiences with X and Y" with "given how X and Y's resignations were handled" – Lilienthal Sep 22 '16 at 21:01
1

Businesses have reputations as well. I once had one go so far as to try to ruin my chances of getting a mortgage, but the mortgage company knew their reputation and completely disregarded them.

If your company has a reputation for being one of those that does not honor notice periods or makes the last weeks for the employee a living hell for resigning, acting wisely will not damage your reputation. As a consultant, I've worked for several companies that were known for abusing their employees. The questions coming from future employers were more of the "I heard about them, how could you stand working for them?" variety.

It really shouldn't hurt future prospects. If you want to avoid questions from your future employer, you can say that you can start in two weeks and then just not give notice until your last day.

If you are concerned about taking a hit to your reputation, then be prepared to lose two weeks wages if your employer shuffles you out the door. Again, this may be easier than having to explain why you are suddenly available to start earlier. Most people are susceptible to the Golden mean fallacy(Wikepedia) and will assume that you must have done something wrong during your notice period.

It is not unprofessional to act wisely. Since this company is known for dismissing people without pay, any future employer that would hold that against you is not someone you would want to work for anyway.

1

For US culture, yes, it is always unprofessional to resign without notice. Even if your company sucks. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Depending on the company and the position you have, upon turning in two weeks' notice the company may just send you home. Most companies will still pay you for those two weeks. Even if yours doesn't (which would mean in effect they would be firing you for quitting), it should not be a problem to start early at the next job in that case, if the new employer is ready for you (but check your contract first). I recommend not asking the new employer about this ahead of time. If the old company sends you home early, then ask if it's ok to start early if you want. The reason I would avoid asking about starting early before knowing for sure is because the new employer may wonder why you expect this to happen. They may ask you why or they may just reach their own conclusion silently. Right or wrong, there is a chance of creating the impression that you bring drama with you.

But if you are unable to make it for two weeks without a paycheck, you have bigger problems than switching jobs cleanly. Definitely don't bring this up when you're discussing an earlier start date. People have issues and hardships, and cost of living versus typical salary varies from place to place but, right or wrong, management may assume that if you do not have sufficient liquid cash to survive for a few months that you must be irresponsible. So particularly with a new employer, keep your personal financial situation to yourself as much as possible.

  • @Lilienthal While it may be common practise to live paycheck to paycheck, it is not good practise. People may feel that they don't have enough income to save, but in most cases it is that they do not value savings highly enough (and the lower your income, that bigger the sacrifice needed to build savings). However, even if you have enough savings to cover the two weeks, it may be more important for you to maintain those savings than keep and old employer happy. – thelem Sep 23 '16 at 12:35
  • @Lilienthal I tried really hard not to give that impression but I've failed. I've explained further at chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/45800/living-paycheck-to-paycheck – thelem Sep 23 '16 at 14:52
  • The reason I would avoid asking about starting early before knowing for sure is because of what the new employer may think if you expect this to happen. They may ask you why or they may just reach their own conclusion silently. Right or wrong, there is a chance of creating the impression that you bring drama with you. – wberry Sep 23 '16 at 15:36
  • The reason I would avoid letting any employer know that you cannot make it for two weeks is because it leaves you open to their judgement of you over this fact. (The other comments here sort of prove the point.) People have issues and hardships, and cost of living versus typical salary varies from place to place. But right or wrong, management may assume that if you do not have sufficient liquid cash to survive for a few months that you must be irresponsible. So particularly with a new employer, keep your personal financial situation to yourself as much as possible. – wberry Sep 23 '16 at 15:40
  • Thanks for the update @wberry. I've taken the liberty of including your comments in your question but please edit it again if you disagree with my changes. – Lilienthal Sep 23 '16 at 20:17
0

I have worked for a couple of companies, that I knew would walk me out as soon as I gave my notice, due to both the nature of the companies and the fact that I was in a sensitive position. I still gave two weeks notice and they walked me out. I called the new job and told them that I could start sooner than planned and it worked out well for everyone.

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Give two weeks notice and bite the bullet financially if they walk you out the same day....

You could lose the new job messing around, and you obviously don't want the old one, but don't burn any bridges.

The financial aspect is something you will have to deal with. Perhaps even pursue this with the old company if they don't provide you income for the last two weeks....

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