In the February 16, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader talks about breaking the “rules.” Good.
There is a good chance that this spring I will score the federal job I’ve wanted for years. I finally have someone pulling for me on the inside and HR is waiting to pull my application as soon as they post the announcement and I apply.
If I get this job — and even with help it’s still a big IF, — it will be my last job. The salary and perks will get me through my last 20 years before retirement, and a few years in, I can even move anywhere I like in the world and work remotely. Sweet.
I’ve done a lot of googling about giving my current employer two weeks’ notice. I despise my job and everything it represents, and sometimes I wonder if they’d even notice I hadn’t come in for days on end. But here’s where it gets complicated and emotional.
A few months ago, I was offered and accepted a position. I had even created an account in their online HR system and chose my benefits. Three days later, the job was rescinded for no more than vague “funding issues.” So, now I’m terrified that if I get an offer, it will vanish after I’ve quit and I’ll be left destitute — a not-so-improbable situation since I lost my job in the Great Recession, was unemployed for two years, and lost my house to foreclosure. It left a lot of emotional damage.
So, finally, my question: Do I really have to give notice? I’m thinking of just saying I’m going on vacation, moving back to D.C., and then calling on my first day and saying I won’t be back. I know that even though I think I’ll never need them as a reference again, it’s a small world and blah blah blah, but honestly I don’t think I even care.
The world has changed a lot and I’d really like to think this won’t come back to bite me. Am I right?
What I love about Ask The Headhunter readers is that you ask the tough, in-your-face questions. The conventional wisdom about quitting without giving notice is etched in stone: Don’t do it! Always give notice!
Bunk. Life and business are full of choices, and the conventional wisdom is always wired to benefit employers and to make life easier for career coaches, who just love simplistic edicts and soft pablum. So let’s explore deeply the hard choices for your benefit. I won’t let you off the hook — but not for the reason people might think.
You’re asking me for permission to do something that is bad form and bad business practice. I can’t give you that permission — you must decide whether to do it.
You’ve put a new spin on giving notice. Having had one job offer rescinded, you don’t want to risk it again. You want to actually start a new job before you resign the old one — and this hedge against disaster makes giving notice virtually impossible. Let’s distinguish between what’s allowed, what’s bad, and what’s advisable.
Is quitting without notice allowed?
I don’t know of any law that requires you to give your employer more notice than “I’m leaving today.” (You’d have to check with a lawyer if you want to be absolutely certain it will not bite you legally.) So I believe you can quit your job and leave without notice. Bear in mind that in most jurisdictions employment is at will and an employer can fire you on the spot for no reason or any reason. Employers do it frighteningly often.
You’ve already experienced the ultimate termination: A job offer was rescinded, effectively firing you before you started. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.
The only other consideration here is whether your current employer imposes any sanctions or penalties for what you’re considering doing. I know employers that will withhold severance or other benefits, or attempt to recover educational investments they’ve made in the employee. If you work in sales, there might be a recoverable draw you’d have to pay back. (Readers making job changes between commercial companies should read Gotcha: The Non-compete agreement.) Check your employee policy manual to make sure you’re not missing anything.
If the law doesn’t prohibit it, you can do it, even if somebody else doesn’t like it.
Is it bad form?
Now let’s consider bad form. As you point out, leaving without notice could leave a bad taste in your employer’s mouth — assuming they care that you’re gone. But don’t skip giving notice thoughtlessly; don’t hurt your employer unnecessarily. Lousy references could follow.
If word gets out, your action could tarnish your reputation more widely. You might upset a co-worker who respects you. The HR manager at the company might mention to HR people in other organizations that you left them in the lurch. A bad reputation can grow from leaving without notice.
Will this come back to bite you? It might. Is it worth the risk? If you do indeed spend the rest of your career at the new job you hope to get, it may not really matter.
Is there any chance your old employer might contact your new employer after you’re hired and poison your new well? Scorned employers sometimes do stupid, irresponsible things out of spite. I’m not sure how much I’d worry about this, but be aware of the possibility and factor it into your decision — and take precautions. Since you’d be taking a federal job, I’m not sure how easy it would be to immediately terminate you. (See The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.)
The warning I’ll give you: Do not disclose to anyone what you’re about to do or where you’re going until you’re already at the new job.
You don’t want your old employer — or anyone else, whether intentionally or not — to nuke your new job or your old job before the deal is sealed. The risk may seem small if you talk, but the consequences could be huge. That makes taking the risk imprudent.
Is it advisable?
This brings us to what’s advisable. An action that might hurt your reputation may be worth the risk and the price — you must make that judgment. It requires balancing the costs and benefits.
In another, related scenario — I call it juggling job offers — I point out that the consequences of a choice that upsets others may very well be worth the benefits. This is from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers, pp. 15-17, and I think it addresses quitting without giving notice:
“Do I think it’s a nice thing to do? Of course not. It’s a crummy thing to do to a company… You will have to live with your decision and its consequences. It could affect your reputation. But life hands us painful choices sometimes, and we have to deal with them.”
In other words, calculate the adverse consequences of your sudden departure and be ready to pay for them. The new job could be worth it, and the risks may be acceptable. Hey — nobody said this was easy, and I’m saying there is no free ride.
What did you sign up for?
Finally, there’s the matter of contracts and agreements. People don’t realize what a can of worms they might leave behind when they quit. Think carefully. Plan ahead.
Study your company’s policies, because there could be grounds for legal action against you if you violate agreements you’ve made. Re-read the job offer you signed when you joined up — what did you agree to? Consider what you may have to sign in order to get your last paycheck. HR can be sneaky. (See The HR Gantlet: How to leave your job without getting hurt.) You don’t have to violate a law to get into trouble. You may subject yourself to a breach of contract that could cost you dearly.
The last thing I’ll point out is that leaving a job — no matter how you do it — poses many routine risks. In Parting Company: How to leave your job, I provide a seven-page “Crib Sheet” about many of the gotchas people don’t think about. Leaving your job can exact costs you didn’t consider. Among the challenges covered in Parting Company:
- What will happen to your stuff? Will you be able to take it with you?
- Are you sure your vacation time will not be charged against your last paycheck?
- Will you lose any benefits you are owed?
- What happens to your pension plan?
- Can the company take action against you over company property in your possession?
- Do you know for sure “what’s theirs” and “what’s yours?”
I’m not trying to scare you. The new job you describe sounds great for you. And if you really despise your current job, it may be worth doing what’s bad form for the benefit of your career.
Hedge against HR
You shouldn’t have to risk your job if you want to accept a new one.
Nowadays, rescinded job offers have become frighteningly common — and as far as I’m concerned, it’s HR’s fault. You should consider whether you need a hedge to protect your current job when you get a new job offer. It may be prudent not to give notice when you get a new offer in case that new offer goes south — but be ready to pay the price of your choice.
If HR managers don’t like this advice, they should call on their brethren to stop rescinding job offers, because that’s what gives impetus to this hedge.
In any case, until employers start behaving with more integrity, proceed with eyes wide open. Protect yourself. Use your best judgment.
Did you ever quit without giving notice? How should this reader handle this situation? What other factors should you consider when deciding whether to give notice?