When an employee leaves your company, you probably expect them to give you two weeks’ notice, but that doesn’t always mean they will. Despite work etiquette and standards, no laws require employees to give any notice whatsoever – let alone two weeks – before quitting.
While breached contracts may impact compensation or trigger a lawsuit, there aren’t any legal protections for employers when employees decide to leave. However, there are ways to lower the odds of employees quitting without notice and quickly recover if it does occur.
We’ll explore the legalities involved when employees leave unexpectedly, how to encourage employees to give ample notice, and why giving two weeks’ notice is beneficial for employees and employers.
Unexpected departures, especially of key employees, can wreak havoc on your business. Nevertheless, you can’t legally force someone to stay.
“At-will employees can be terminated at any time, with or without cause,” Byles said. “Employees also have the same right and can leave at will anytime without any legal consequences.”
While two weeks’ notice isn’t a federal law, some states have specific regulations surrounding paid time off (PTO) and final paychecks.
“In California, if an employee resigns without notice, employers have 72 hours to pay both final wages and unused vacation time,” Byles said as an example.
According to the advocacy group Workplace Fairness, 24 states – including Arizona, California, New York, Maine, Kentucky and Nebraska – require employers to pay any unused vacation time in the last paycheck. In those states, workers can only challenge a business over accrued PTO if the business owner explicitly promised to pay unpaid vacation time in the final paycheck. Twenty-six states don’t have any laws pertaining to accrued paid vacation.
It’s crucial to understand precisely what two weeks’ notice is: a courtesy warning an employee extends to their employer when quitting a job. In theory, the employee submits a formal resignation letter and offers to continue working for two business weeks.
“It’s not a policy, but it’s common practice,” said Tiffany Glenn, vice president of human resources for major accounts services at ADP. “I would say [quitting on the spot] is more common with small businesses versus larger-scale businesses because of the nature of their size and the challenges they are up against.”
Losing an employee is never an ideal situation, but employees who provide advance notice adhere to a best practice that benefits both employers and employees. Here are some key advantages to both sides.
These are some top benefits of receiving two weeks’ notice from your staff:
While being afforded two weeks to prepare for an employee’s departure offers obvious benefits to your business, the departing employee also benefits.
Turnover is part of running a business – particularly small ones. With tight budgets and limited resources, it can be difficult to compete against large companies. Losing an employee is bad enough, but when it’s seemingly out of nowhere, it can be harmful to operations and morale. [Related read: How to Calculate and Improve Employee Turnover]
To improve employee retention, Glenn advises maintaining an open dialogue with employees about your organization’s culture and how best to overcome challenges.
“It’s not the norm for people to leave with such urgency,” she said. “Sometimes, having those conversations prevents exits and departures of this nature.”
While two weeks’ notices can’t be a requirement, it can be an expectation – one that is laid out in the employee handbook. This way, employees – especially those newer to the workforce – can anticipate how to best resign.
If an employee quits on the spot, mitigating the impact of the loss is your top priority. If roles go unfilled, it could hurt productivity, harm relationships and result in lost sales.
Anissa Wilson, HR services area manager at Oasis, recommends making a swift assessment of the position you’re losing and then reassigning tasks to ensure operations aren’t interrupted. It’s essential to weigh your options in these situations. You may even be able to reassign duties without replacing the employee.
Losing top-performing employees can be a massive hit to your business, particularly if they hold vital knowledge. In those instances, it may be worthwhile to entice them to stay. This may mean offering additional compensation, vacation time or a promotion – or all three.
“If that employee is a true top performer, you will want to retain the talent,” Byles said. “The biggest challenge is transferring knowledge.”
Just as you have a policy for terminating employees, it pays to establish a policy for employees quitting. The more you plan for the unexpected, the better you’ll handle employee departures.
Here are some expectations and rules you should clearly establish in your company policy on quitting:
With or without notice, an employee leaving can put your business in a bind. However, you can do some things in advance to ease the transition.
Your small business may be at a budgetary disadvantage when it comes to training several people for one task. However, cross-training employees should be an ongoing process, not a one-off when an employee quits.
“Too many times, we’ve seen our clients have one person who knows how to do one role or function,” Wilson said. “It would choke the company if the employee were to leave. It’s always better to have more than one person know how to do a function.”
Employee turnover happens even at the best companies. It can make or break your business, depending on how prepared you are to handle it. If you build a pipeline of potential candidates for your key roles, losing one employee won’t be devastating.
“It’s always important to be sourcing inside and outside the organization,” Glenn said. “You may not need to recruit those people in the moment, but you’ll have a warm list of candidates to go to at any given time.”
When an employee does quit, it’s crucial to conduct a substantive exit interview, which is your opportunity to learn what the employee liked or disliked about your business. It’s also an opportunity to collect company-owned equipment, desk keys or door entry cards.
“While you should do all you can to retain top talent, some will eventually leave. Turnover is a natural part of the workforce life cycle,” Byles said. “The exit interviews give you the opportunity to discuss the reasons for leaving and identify how the organization needs to change to better attract, develop, and retain top talent.”
Bassam Kaado contributed to the writing and research in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.