Question

I’m getting conflicting advice about giving notice before I resign my job after accepting a new job offer. A career coach told me I have to give notice or ruin my reputation. (“Don’t’ burn bridges.”) A guy I used to work with got burned when he gave notice: his boss demanded he stay a month to train somebody! Another was immediately escorted to the door by company security. (He was counting on a couple of weeks’ more salary.) Not all stories are bad but I don’t like to take risks when I can avoid them. I’d prefer to just make a clean cut without notice. Do you have any tips to play it safe?

Nick’s Reply

giving-noticeI’ll summarize what I think are six important considerations that should help keep you out of trouble when giving notice that you’re quitting your job. I’ll emphasize up front that you must do your own calculation and decide for yourself what is your best course of action.

1. Check your obligations before giving notice

It’s astonishing how many people think their basic freedoms vanish when it comes to their jobs. Just as you’re free to move from one state to another when you wish, without anyone’s permission, you’re free to change jobs anytime you wish (with or without giving notice) — unless you signed an agreement accepting limits on this choice. Check the obligations you agreed to.

Do you have an employment contract? (These are rare in the U.S. and usually involve executive positions.) If you do, read it carefully, or have an employment attorney review it. Keep in mind that the job offer you signed may be a kind of contract, and it may incorporate by reference your company’s employee policy manual — which may say something about a notice requirement. It matters what you sign and agree to when you accept a job.

2. Check for “employment at will” law

In most U.S. jurisdictions employment is “at will” — your company can terminate you at any time for any or no reason, without giving you any notice. But if you work in an “at will” state, you can likewise quit. Whether you should quit without notice is usually your choice. Make sure you know the employment law in your state — and review what you have contractually agreed to.

3. Check your company’s history

Nose around before you decide. Has your employer made life difficult for other employees that quit without notice? Some employers actually handle resignations with aplomb. It’s worth finding out your company’s actual practices because that may factor into how you calculate your risk.

4. Check your reputation risk

That career coach is correct: resigning without notice can damage your professional reputation. (Your employer may put you on a no-rehire list.) If word gets out, it might damage your rep with other employers.

However. This is a risk you must calculate. While quitting without notice can be a crappy thing to do, it might be prudent anyway. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. If giving notice might put you in serious jeopardy, avoiding the risk may be preferable to doing what’s expected.

Now let’s talk about potential jeopardy.

5. Check the consequences

Giving notice because “it’s the right thing to do” might trigger consequences you haven’t considered. Like the friend you mentioned, you may not get two weeks yourself — of additional salary or time between jobs that you expected. You may be told to leave immediately without a chance to gather your personal belongings. (“HR will mail your stuff to you.”)

If you work in sales or get paid a bonus, policy might dictate that you don’t get the money unless you’re employed there on the date it is set to be paid — and unless you provide notice. Quitting without notice may trigger instant recovery of educational or relocation investments the company made in you. If you work on a “draw” in sales, you might actually owe the company money it advanced you against future commissions. (See The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.)

An employer cannot withhold your pay, but you must understand what constitutes pay in your specific case. But don’t run from choices like these. Depending on the financial rewards and professional opportunities provided by your new job, it may be worth resigning without notice.

6. Check the spite factor

Tendering a resignation usually elicits this question: “Where are you going to work next?” It may seem as innocent as HR’s request that you sit for an “exit interview” and explain yourself. But you owe no one any explanations, or information about your future.

I’ve seen spiteful employers go out of their way to nuke a departing employee’s new job offer. Is there any chance your old boss would contact your new employer and try to poison your well? Please think about this. That offer you accepted could be rescinded. In my experience, it’s rare. But if it does happen, the consequences for you could be dire. A risk might seem small, but when the cost is potentially immense, I don’t think taking a chance is prudent..

My advice: Don’t tell anyone even remotely associated with your old company where you’re going until you’re already there. “No offense, but I’ll be happy to get in touch once I’ve settled into my new job and we can have lunch.”

I’m not suggesting you should never give notice when resigning. But if you decide to part company suddenly, take time to evaluate the risks, and to calculate the potential costs and benefits of quitting without notice. Is your new job worth it?

Do you give notice when you resign a job? Have you been happy with the outcome? Are there circumstances when you think not giving notice in advance of leaving an employer is prudent?

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44 Comments
  1. Great advice, especially about not telling others your new company. Here’s my story:

    I once encountered a manager who bragged about how much she enjoyed sabotaging people who resign to leave for another company. She gave some horrific examples.

    I didn’t think people like that really existed until I was face to face with one. After I left, she had a particular person call me nearly every day to pump me for information on either how to do my job or find out my new employment.
    This went on for over 6 months before the calls stopped!

    I didn’t update my LinkedIn with my company name until 7+ years later, after getting consecutive great performance reviews every year. If someone from my old company called to tank me after all this time, they would look very suspect.

    • @Rachel: I’ve described stories like yours before. It’s rare, but it does happen. I think the risk of a bad outcome is just too great, and there’s no benefit I can see in disclosing to anyone where you’re going. I think waiting just a couple of weeks, or perhaps til your probationary period is ended, is enough to stay mum. But I certainly understand your extreme silence!

  2. Wow. The US really still is the Wild West isn’t it, at least when it comes to employment. No Employment Contract? That’s so alien to me having worked years in Netherlands (and yes, its not The Netherlands, just Netherlands…) and now for 20 years in Australia. Employment Contracts protect both employer and employee, and like Nick mentions, there’s normally a notice period specified. Employers also can’t simply fire an employee after the probation period (which is usually 3 or 6 months). And after you’ve worked a year for an employer (in Australia), if they want to fire you, they usually have to give you a payout. If you resign and the employer doesn’t want you on the premises any more, then they still have to pay you out for your notice period.

    • This is all very true for the protection of YOUR job, but it works totally against you for needing to terminate someone, especially in the EU.

      I worked for a subsidiary company in Brussels, and we had an administrative assistant that was worse than useless. She would show up 2 hours late every day, leave 2 hours early, read a romance novel at her desk all day, and if you ever asked her to do anything you would get a resounding “go f*ck yourself” in reply. We tried to get her terminated for YEARS and it simply could not be done, or the EU equivalent of HR simply did not want to be bothered. The only way a manager could get rid of her was to make it HER idea to transfer to a new department, and now she became their problem.

      Makes US union shops seem absolutely delightful in comparison.

      • @Hank-
        The downside of the EU system you describe is the near impossibility of terminating an employee like this, but this sounds more like an anomaly.
        I see it as being no different than the employment at will system we have here that’s often selective termination, and more often than not, for willy-nilly reasons.
        Case in point, my workplace is rife with young women, who like the young woman you describe in Belgium, tell colleagues (myself included) to F themselves, tell my customers to F themselves (and I have lost customers as a result of this) screw off, shirk duties, yada…yada. But soft male management and owners allow this, and enable this conduct, so ultimately, it’s a management and cultural issue. I’ve seen this same narrative played out at other employers as well, especially in the last 20-30 years.

        • Point taken, but in the majority of cases like this in the US management CHOOSES not to act, whereas in the EU you literally must go to a court and file with a superior court judge to get action, and just the filing of the case may take 2 – 3 years, with the end result merely being a transfer in many cases. Therefore the incentive to take action against EU citizen employees in basically zilch.

          • Employment law varies through the EU; there are overall EU regulations, but employment laws are otherwise made by the individual countries, in that case Belgium.

            It is, however, true that firing people is very difficult in some countries. Here in Norway, it is comparably easier, as you need to document a reason to fire – but then you can do. The employee can challenge in court, but at the risk of incurring employers legal expenses if he loses.

    • @ Olger Diekstra-
      Wow, I wish the US would adopt the models you describe in both Europe and Australia. Will never happen, at least in my lifetime.
      As was mentioned in the article, we have “at will employment” in 49 of 50 states in the US. The deck is stacked in the employers favor in the US, and they can terminate workers on a whim and show them the door in seconds, regardless of tenure (the exception would be for unionized workers, which are few and far between in the US now).
      I’ve been to Canada several times in my life. They have a reasonable notice and reasonable cause requirement. I’m no expert on employment law in Canada, but from what I’ve researched and been told, employers must give workers a set notice time, and depending on the province, pay a set amount of severance based on tenure when employment is terminated.
      I don’t know how they handle terminations due to gross misconduct.
      At will is a bad deal here in the US!

  3. Spot on for the cautionary tales. One thing I have always done is come in extra early or stay extra late one day and gather up anything personal or important from your office and physically take it home. The risk of being walked out is very real and if they ever actually do pack up your items, they will arrive missing or damaged. Don’t forget important paper files or documentation that belong to you, just not company work product.

    Don’t even trust your best friend with the name of the new company, it’s location and especially not your new manager. Keeping it under wraps for many months is never a bad idea. If anyone comments on your LinkedIn not being updated, you “just haven’t had time yet.”

  4. I find the old employer “poisoning your well” concept interesting, and I have had someone do it to me. It could very well be why I didn’t get a few jobs (I only discovered a reference was doing this after my new hiring manager told me about it). However, if this poisoning was why the other companies didn’t hire me, I am thankful I didn’t work for them. #JoyOfMissingOut #JOMO

  5. Follow the 6 points … my experience with 3 & 5. If previous employees were escorted to the door after resignation, you plan accordingly. And 5, especially if compensation is due, bonus etc. We used to joke how headcount dropped off after 2/15. That’s when annual bonuses cleared your bank.

    Also have in mind how’ll you’ll respond to a counter offer. I’ve seen major incentive offers made to stay. Of course that makes you think why weren’t they paying me that already.

  6. The job was so bad the company had a 33 percent turn over rate. I used that fact when I landed my next job. When I went to quit, I quit on Friday which was my last day. And I buried the notice in a stack of papers on my vacationing Manager’s desk. But I did tell my staff it was my last day.

  7. I was at a good account’s manufacturing plant recently, and the V.P. was complaining to me how difficult it is to find employees (his wages and benefits are substandard for one thing), and how he’s seen a trend of employees across the board who they hire, and soon after, they quit without notice, or “ghost” them. He reasoned “why would someone burn bridges and risk their reputation by quitting without notice”?
    I can say unequivocally that this company has a “revolving door culture”. Frankly, I wouldn’t work for them if I had to.
    I once gave the customary two weeks notice, and the last employer I did this to showed me the door (their call under at will employment).
    I agree with Bob’s practice. I no longer give notice.
    So by not giving notice you can supposedly damage your reputation? Says who? Your former employer that you’re leaving? There’s a reason why you are exited your employer, so why would you ever want to work for them again?

    • The classic dogma has always been that when the company is contacted in background checks, they will give a work dates history, but also sometimes a “Would you hire them again” question is asked. If you quit without notice, the dogma is that the company then answers “No, no rehire” and that could screw you in the background and reference check from the new company. And yes, some companies DO actually call previous employers from your history, especially if you worked there longer. Many do not give any info aside from the work history for fear of being sued, but others still do.

      This is why I always gave notice, even at the risk of being walked out, having taken all the precautions of removing my files and property first. Now, as to the “you MUST have an exit interview with HR” I would simply refuse, and if they started getting snippy I’d remind them federal law obliged them to provide COBRA to my address on file. They usually went away after that.

    • The reason you don’t want to foul the next by acting unprofessionally in departing is that you don’t want them giving a bad reference when the company you want to work for calls to confirm what your resume says. And yes, you can hide this by calling that company “Confidential Employer” and saying you don’t want them contacted for references and explain why, but that approach has its risks too.

      • Giving a customary 2 week notice is no guarantee that a former employer will not give you a bad reference. Too many workers fall for this.

        • No guarantees anywhere, but not offering in the letter and simply walking out unless it’s the most extreme circumstances (harm and fraud) increases the possibility.

        • In this day and age, the companies are too fearful of a lawsuit if they give a bad reference, hence the practice of only giving confirmation of work dates. In a decades prior, this was clear code for “bad employee” if they said nothing else, not so much today. But “employee left without giving (employee manual mandated) two week notice” is factual, unassailable in court but a really bad vibe for new employer to hear. Why risk it by not just sticking it out for the two weeks – “quiet quit” if you must.

          • An “(employee manual mandated) two week notice” seems like it would not combine well with “at will” employment.

            • No this is absolutely SOP, especially in where money is involved. They can tie PTO (specifically, not “vacation” which is why they word it that way) payouts to giving notice, but most importantly, your “good name” is affected if you don’t with the implied threat of a “do not rehire” status.

              But the employee does indeed have the RIGHT to leave with no notice. As does the employer to lay you off on the spot.

    • While each case is different, it’s worth asking yourself what is the baseline probability than an employer will (1) actually check references, and if they do, (2) weight them meaningfully, or (3) ask you to explain a negative response.

      I find that employers tend to bungle reference checks, especially if they farm them out to third parties. You can’t count on that, but you should take it into account. See:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8395/references-how-employers-bungle-a-competitive-edge

  8. 1) Have nothing personal in your office that you can’t afford to lose
    2) Always on an ongoing basis flash drive or send to yourself important record copies of your work (especially important for portfolios) and note what is public or proprietary. Print out if needed for reference.
    3) Same with any memos to file and performance evaluations. In fact home is the best place for copies.
    4) Always assume you will be frog marched out of there so you’ll be pleased if they don’t.
    5) Know your rights in your state and under company policy, and when planning, minimize damage e.g. to profit sharing, bonuses, retention etc.
    6) Offer two weeks notice with a date and stick to it, even if they wave cash at you to stay. Retirement may require more or an end of month or year date. Check custom and policy.
    7) Plan your transition out in that two weeks and leave with clear documentations of projects, pending etc. This will minimize the post departure phone calls and emails which should be limited to two. Then you charge consulting.
    8) Don’t disclose where you are going or update your LinkedIn profile. Wait a couple of months so that you know your new position is sticking.

    • Adding…do it all in writing to your direct manager and the department head. Let them deal with HR. Both email with receipt of opening and in hard copy. State your two week notice to transition work and departure date. Thank them, and end it.

  9. It would be interesting to hear your take on internal transfers. My wife has a colleague who took a job in another part of the company with the understanding that he’d finish open projects and transition to his replacement. Months go by, no replacement and they keep giving him new projects. No effective transfer date.

    • Get the new boss to tell the old boss that you are unavailable.

    • I can only say to get it in writing as to the transition period, but these are always difficult. You’re within the company yet you wind up working two jobs for one salary because in this context saying NO is made difficult. If you object, you get the reputation as ‘difficult’, not a ‘team player’, and badmouthed as others transfer too. It’s sneaky and unfair.

      How I would handle it is to go to the direct manager at the highest level–get time with his or her boss. State the obvious but in a politic manner that it’s their problem–another department is stealing THEIR time, and Colleague can’t expand in THEIR job because of the call from the old one. Trying my best but really want to move 100% to them and grow in the new job. The idea is to conclude the transition. The old group is really taking advantage but again, it’s that person’s manager problem.

      • Pro tip to colleague: update your resume with both jobs, with no end date on the prior position. Note that after a date, you remained as acting manager after the transfer. And start looking, because if your boss can’t be mildly territorial on this, he or she won’t look out for you when you really need it.

  10. I agree on always keeping copies of all of your materials, including reports, resesrch, everything that you do at your home. Always, every day. As to exit time, I have made a practice of telling the new employer that I want to give 2 or 4 or whatevger it might be weeks notice; but that my current company has a history of allowing you to leave immediately. If that turns out to be the case in this instance, is it OK to start immediately? This lets the new company that i will do this for them if I should ever decide to leave them. Good tactic! Also, I agree on the financials – be sure to get all of your bonuses, commissions, etc, as in the sbove example thar 2/15 was the universal resignation dayte, i.e., when al bonus checks, et. have cleared the bsnk. Here, it mght help to have your bank temporarily close your bank account for a few weeks. Might save a lot money as some banks wi allow a withdrawal frok the conpany whose check you deposited. [Social Security and all government agencies also do this.]

    • I would think that companies have already figured that out and will send you either a legal notice to refund the money or if the amount is high enough serve you personally.

    • @Wes: Be careful. Taking materials owned by your employer could lead to legal troubles. Just sayin’.

  11. I recall reading back, in the ’90’s I think, about companies that existed to police such behavior from former employers. You would hire them, they would create a fake company existing only on paper, just to receive references from former employers, or the spiteful behavior described.

    The idea being that you hired the company to receive these bad references or spiteful phone calls, record them and report to you, and in turn you could use as evidence in a lawsuit.

    Do such companies exist nowadays?

    I went into medicine to avoid having to deal with employers like this. Unfortunately, such behavior is affecting medicine as bad as any other line of work.

    • @ARF A quick Google search for “reference checking service” turned up at least three companies in the first 10 links that for around 50 bucks will call the old company, get the references, and give a transcript of pertinent parts of the conversation related to references.

    • @ARF: Please see Hank’s suggestion below. If you have a friend who is a manager at another company that might consider interviewing you, that manager could call your old employer for references, too. Nothing prohibits that manager from calling you afterwards.

    • @ARF
      Doctor,
      I’m hearing more and more about medicine being effected this way from physicians at my church. I’m friends with a Radiologist, and two Cardiologists at my church. Two are on staff at local hospitals, and one is in private practice. They’ve confided in me the very concerns you’ve expressed. My young D.O. (who’ve I’ve doctored with for 7 years now) has also confided this with me.
      There are in fact companies (the question begs “how legit are they”?) who fabricate phony companies, phony references, and phony resumes. There’s a guy in my area who does this, and I understand from testimonials that people who were long termed unemployed (shaking your death rattle if you’ve been out of work more than a month, and if you’re an older worker too) secured employment through this guy’s services. He has set fees for each service. Seems sketchy, but people claim it works.
      Back in my younger days (I’m now 64), I worked in Welding/Metal Fabrication for a season in life when I was between jobs. A colleague of mine had his lady friend call a former employer, who in turn, viscously bad-mouthed this guy (he was a stellar employer where we were at). She recorded the conversation as well. I’m no attorney, so I don’t know if that would hold up in court if one litigated (?).
      Strange times we live in.

  12. One thing to add about the two week notice…during layoffs we often do not get that. It is “get the hell out.”

    And unlike getting the boot when we submit our notice, we do not have another job lined up.

    We all should have some money stashed. In case of layoff, dismissal when submitting notice, or all the other curve balls life can throw at us.

  13. Six months of phone calls are ended by one letter to cease and desist. Your company should do that for you.

    I was fired once for poor performance, two days before Christmas. I asked for HR to give me a signed copy of my performance review. While they went to retrieve it , I went next door and asked the CFO to step in.

    She came back and could not produce it. I apologized for wasting her time, and then informed her in presence of the officers that I was never reviewed in the past two years. I took the termination offer and added a zero , and said “I’ll be negotiating up from here “ , and requested the CFO escort me out with my personal property in my office

    CEO looked puzzled. I reminded him we were in a DOD secure facility and unescorted outside agents are not permitted in the facility.

    From Rocky “ You should have planned ahead”

  14. “A career coach told me I have to give notice or ruin my reputation.”

    A note about this. Your reputation is a plant that you nurture and grow with your integrity and professionalism. It cannot be taken away by people with casual remarks and bad references. If you have good reason to leave on short order, do so, and be ready to discuss why with your next employer.

    I left a company once and had one bad apple who tried to make my life difficult and 8 people who worked alongside and for me who were glowing. Guess which side won?

    • @ VP Sales-
      “Your reputation is a plant that you nurture and grow with your integrity and professionalism. It cannot be taken away by people with casual remarks and bad references”. SPOT ON RIGHT!
      I’ve had a couple of past rogue and dissolute employers say some rather petty disparaging things about me, and guess what, the next employer had a cooler and discerning head, so it was flatulence in a whirlwind.

  15. It’s nearly Thanksgiving so let me help Nick with a “ how to say it” post

    Here is your resignation letter from Acme Anvil…..

    Date

    Your address

    Dear HR,

    I resign from my position of xxxxxx at Acme Anvil , inc.

    Yours truly

    Your name

    …and that’s all.

    • That’s exactly how I do it now. Seal it in an envelope, and put it on the bosses desk/workstation, or slide it under his door (as he’s normally baled early leaving the troops in the trenches) on Friday at the end of the business day, then start my new job Monday morning.
      This existential angst that you’ve screwed yourself for life by not giving a 2 week notice is silly.
      2 weeks notice is becoming a thing of the past. The younger folks are overwhelmingly not doing it. Good for them.

      • @Antonio, while this may seem satisfying in the moment, I would wager that in your job you were issued an Employee Manual, to whose rules and regulations you agreed to abide by. In it will invariably be the rules as to leaving. They will include most likely 1) requirement of giving 2 weeks notice, 2) no vacation or PTO in your last 2 weeks, and 3) acknowledgment that they do not have to pay out any accrued PTO etc. (not vacation, but PTO and yes this is significant in the law) if you don’t give the required notice.

        So, no, there is no LEGAL requirement of giving notice, there may be other repercussions in a financial sense, as well as an unassailable “Would not rehire” response to any reference/work status queries from potential new companies.

        While you may restate that the loss of PTO payout does not matter to you, the very real risk of a bad employer reference in the future still exists. Is it worth it just for the fleeting satisfaction of leaving with an elevated middle finger behind your back as you are walking out?

  16. I’ve worked in 6 different States, and in everyone of them, PTO was an accrued benefit that was paid out in cash on separation. Check your State law to understand what your situation is. State law would overrule a policy that tried to cheat you of accrued pay, in any civilized State, at least.

    I’ve survived two “ would not rehire” labels in my career because of the known toxicity of the company

  17. Yes, reread any legal documents you foolishly signed. Remember that all this trash you have been reading s from the Evil HR Department. What you only care about is a legal docukents that irrevocably specifies your signon bonnus and al the other raises, promotions etc that you can think of to schedule over the next fdive years MINIMUM. All the other if just … barf.

    YOU have to find out if you will grow in the job, receive fully paid college and certificate(s) trainig, etc. Anytime that you want to quit, do so, preferable for a better job. Never mind notice. Just protect yurselff so that you get all the financial benefits, bonuses, commissi0ns, etc paid before you go – beter idea to make sure the checks clear and then templrarily close your bank accpount because some banks allow seisure of amounts paid if you are not careful.

    REQUIRE that you meet your boss’s boss’s boss and evaluarte if they will be honest on paying what your legal document document specifies. If not, why waste your time. This goes for all the … barf interview gimmicks everybody is peddling, too. Bottom line: you care only about the money, greater educatio0n of your choosing, better assignments and responsibility, and jobs where you can make a FINANCIAL diffeerence and be paid for that.

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