You never want to see a good member of your accounting team hand in an employee resignation. But the reality is that it’s going to happen. People leave jobs for family, health, more holidays, a better-paying job, you name it. And as the boss, you have to deal with it.
It’s important to know what you can require when someone quits, what you can politely ask for, what to tell the rest of your staff, 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 five important factors you need to consider when working through an employee resignation.
1. Understanding the legal aspects
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 the employee resignation 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.
5. Notifying other staff members, customers
Don’t wait to tell the members of the departing employee’s department about the upcoming exit. You can call a quick meeting to announce that their coworker’s last day is in two weeks, ask for help to fill in before a replacement is found, and let them know about any changes in responsibilities — and an estimated timeline — as a result of the employee resignation.
You can notify other employees with a brief email, and if you plan to hold a good-bye party, you can include those details. You should also hold an exit interview to obtain information about why the employee is leaving, what your company is doing well, and what you need to improve.
Don’t bother making a counteroffer to entice the employee to stay. Counteroffers aren’t long-term remedies, and they can backfire or have a ripple effect among other employees.
Resignations are an inevitable fact of business life, and you may see more of them as job hopping loses its stigma. Regardless of the reasons people choose to leave your organization, 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 updated recently to reflect current information.