4 Things You Need to Know About an Employment Notice Period

By Robert Half May 9, 2017 at 9:45am

You never want to see a good accounting employee hand in a resignation. But the reality is that it’s going to happen. And that means an employment notice period will come into play.

There’s a lot to take into account when you’re dealing with a member of your staff who gives notice. It’s important to know what you can require when someone quits, what you can politely ask for and what happens if the agreed-upon time frame is too long — or not long enough.

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Let’s take a look at four important factors you need to consider when working through an employment notice period.

1. Understanding the legal aspect

A majority of U.S. states operate under an at-will employment agreement, as opposed to a statutory one, meaning there’s no default requirement for employees to be granted notice periods in a dismissal or to serve notice periods when they announce they're leaving. Although many contracts do contain these requirements, individuals and employers can request new terms once the resignation or termination decision has been made. If you do amend a contract after an employee has served his or her notice, it’s a good idea to bring your lawyer into the picture.

2. Planning for a successful exit

Managers can require outgoing employees to keep working full steam ahead during their final days. However, workers' motivation often wanes as employment begins drawing to a close. Therefore, the time after giving notice is most effectively used as a handover period. Have exiting employees update their existing job descriptions, and work with them to delegate their duties and determine what projects they’ll need to complete before leaving.

Immediately remove departing employees from sensitive or confidential projects, especially if they’re headed for a competitor.

If employees have fulfilled their usefulness or their presence is detrimental to the working environment, you can ask them to leave before the end of their notice periods after consulting state laws — or an attorney — to make certain you’ve provided departing employees with all the necessary documentation. However, you’ll still have to pay their salaries for the amount of time stated in their contracts.

3. Extending a notice period 

Professional convention has workers give a minimum of two weeks notice before they depart, but employees with no defined time frames written into their contracts are free to walk away immediately after giving notice. As an employer, if you need time to delegate duties and recruit a suitable replacement, you can negotiate with employees to extend their tenure at your organization. Clearly, you’ll want to do this as soon as possible. Also, remember that they’re free to decline your request.

4. Handling employees who just want to leave

If employees want to quit immediately after giving notice, you have the right to require them to honor the period dictated by their contract. However, it may be difficult to keep them productive or prevent disruption. So in this situation, it’s best to give the employee a cooling-off period to process emotions. Ask to speak to them the next day, and explain why everyone would benefit from them staying through a set notice period.  

A resignation notice period is an inevitable fact of business life, and you may see more of them as job hopping loses its stigma, as it has in the last few years. Regardless of the reasons people choose to leave your organization — family, health, more holidays, a better-paying job — it’s important to stay on good terms with them so you can both achieve your objectives over the final days and beyond. One of the best means of ensuring that your professional relationship doesn't sour is to work closely with human resources and your firm’s attorney to make sure your employee’s departure aligns with internal policies and the law.

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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated recently.

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