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Can You Legally Require Employees to Give 2 Weeks’ Notice?

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Senior Finance Writer
Business News Daily Staff
Updated May 05, 2022

Giving two weeks' notice isn't a law, but there are ways to encourage employees to follow this best employment practice.

  • Giving two weeks’ notice isn’t a legal requirement, but it’s common practice when someone leaves a position.  
  • Businesses must abide by state laws that govern final paychecks and accrued paid time off even if an employee leaves suddenly.  
  • To reduce the impact of employees leaving quickly and unexpectedly, business owners should cross-train their teams and maintain a talent pipeline.  
  • This article is for business owners and managers who want to reduce the odds of employees leaving without notice. 

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.  

Can you legally require employees to give two weeks’ notice?

Unexpected departures, especially of key employees, can wreak havoc on your business. Nevertheless, you can’t legally force someone to stay.

According to Nadira Byles, HR consultant at Justworks, employees who don’t work under a contract likely have an at-will employment agreement.

“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.

TipTip: To make tracking PTO easier, consider using time and attendance software. Read our in-depth reviews of the best time and attendance systems to find a solution.

What is two weeks’ notice?

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.”

What are the benefits of two weeks’ notice?

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.

Employers’ advantages

These are some top benefits of receiving two weeks’ notice from your staff:

  • It gives you time to prepare. If your existing employee gives you two weeks’ notice, you have time to plan. You can post a job listing, assess who can cover the position’s responsibilities in the short term, schedule an exit interview, and have time to set up interviews for potential new employees. Allowing two full weeks to develop and execute a plan is a crucial courtesy from employees that helps create a seamless transition to fill the role.
  • It helps departments tie up loose ends. During the two weeks the employee remains with the company, their department has a valuable window to complete tasks and projects involving the departing employee. During this period, managers can work with personnel to pinpoint what needs to prioritize projects and organize action items. The ability to tie up loose ends allows for a clean transition and places the new team member in a better position when they take over.
  • It allows for training overlap. If your company can hire a new employee or promote a replacement employee quickly, this person has the opportunity to train with the departing employee. Learning from an expert on the job is ideal, by giving the new employee invaluable experience during the training process and helping to create a seamless transition. 

Employees’ advantages

While being afforded two weeks to prepare for an employee’s departure offers obvious benefits to your business, the departing employee also benefits. 

  • They leave the company in good standing. Your staff may have excellent reasons to leave their current positions, but it’s never wise to burn bridges. If your team leaves on good terms, they have a path back to your company if circumstances change. Additionally, leaders will likely provide good references for future employment.
  • It preserves co-worker relationships. Co-workers will likely feel the repercussions when staff members exit your company. Giving two weeks’ notice shows mutual respect. By providing ample notice, colleagues maintain amicable professional and personal relationships moving forward.

Did you know?Did you know?: The top motivation for employees who quit is higher pay. Other common reasons include lack of benefits, being overworked and managers who don’t honor commitments.

How do you prevent employees from quitting without notice?

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.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Communicate openly with your employees to avoid staff leaving on the spot, and document the expectation of two weeks’ notice in your employee handbook.

What should you do if an employee quits without notice?

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.”

How do you develop a resignation policy?

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:

  • State that you require substantial notice. If you expect employees to give two weeks’ notice when they quit, specify that in the official policy – as well as the consequences for breaking this rule, such as the employee never being able to work for the company again. “You can’t legislate it, but you can have an expectation clearly laid out,” Wilson said.
  • Get it in writing. To protect everyone, the employee’s notice of resignation should be in writing, either as a company form or a notice letter. It should include why the employee is leaving and their effective departure date. If an employee chooses to resign verbally, they should send confirmation of that notice to their manager shortly afterward.
  • Clarify your rehiring rules. Employees leave for various reasons – often for better opportunities, to attend to family matters, or because they were laid off. Sometimes, those employees want to return. With that in mind, your company policy should include guidelines on rehiring former staff. Many companies will rehire employees who were let go because of a reduction in the workforce or voluntarily resigned. Those who were let go because of performance or insubordination usually aren’t hired back – and you should spell this out clearly in your company’s disciplinary action policy.

What else can you do about turnover?

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.

Cross-train several employees. 

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.” 

Keep the pipeline full. 

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.”

Conduct exit interviews. 

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.

Image Credit:

Zinkevych / Getty Images

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Business News Daily Staff
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.