When an employee resigns in the movies, they’re often curtly told by their manager to hand over their security badge and clear out their desk. Real life is (usually) more courteous and professional, of course. And given the difficulty companies are having finding skilled talent to replace the millions of people quitting each month, many hiring managers would prefer to get two more weeks out of a departing employee over rushing them out the door.
So while you never want to see a good member of your team hand in their resignation, the reality is that it’s going to happen. In fact, research by Robert Half found that 4 in 10 U.S. workers are considering a job change.
So 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 how to handle equipment retrieval for remote and hybrid workers.
Here are six factors to consider when working through an employee resignation.
1. Understanding the legal aspects
Most U.S. states operate under an at-will employment agreement instead of a statutory one. That means there’s no default requirement for employees to be granted notice periods in a dismissal or to give advance notice that they're leaving.
Although many contracts 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 their notice, it’s a good idea to bring your lawyer into the picture, just to make sure everything is handled soundly from a legal perspective.
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 they near the finish line. Therefore, the time after giving notice is often most effectively used as a handover period.
Have exiting employees update their existing job descriptions, and work with them to delegate 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 finished work on their assignments or their presence becomes detrimental to the working environment, you can ask them to leave before the end of their notice period after consulting state laws – or an attorney – to make certain you’ve provided departing employees with all the necessary documentation. Furthermore, if you regard a leaving employee as a potential security risk, you should take steps to end their employment immediately, working with your IT department to make sure the worker is immediately locked out of the company’s network. In all cases, you’ll still have to pay the employee’s salary for the amount of time stated in their contract.
3. Handling equipment retrieval
This is not a new step – many jobs have long allowed or required staff to keep company equipment off-site. But with the rise of remote and hybrid working, it’s more common than before, so add the following steps for equipment retrieval to your employee resignation process:
- Make it easy to return the equipment. Either arrange for the property to be picked up directly or send the employee a prepaid and prelabeled box that can be returned by mail or shipping service.
- Consider encouraging the employee to return the equipment by including a small gift card with the pre-paid box. Many employees are unlikely to pocket the gift without returning the equipment, so it could be a smart investment.
- Check whether state law allows you to deduct the value of any non-returned equipment from the employee’s final paycheck. This should be a last resort, but you and the departing worker need to know if it’s possible.
- Check whether any returned equipment is damaged or broken. State law may also allow you to deduct the cost of equipment repair or replacements from the employee’s final paycheck.
4. Extending the employee resignation notice period
Professional convention has workers give at least two weeks’ notice before they depart. Still, 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.
5. 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.
6. Notifying other staff members
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 managing the extra workload 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 goodbye party, you can include those details. You should also notify customers or clients who may be affected.
For the employee who’s leaving, hold an exit interview to obtain information about 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; they can backfire and have a ripple effect among other employees.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, employee resignations are as certain as death and taxes, and you may see more of them in an era of high quit rates. But amid all the downsides for employers, consider one of the upsides: an employee who leaves on good terms may return to work for you in the future. By facilitating a smooth and tension-free exit, you ensure a positive farewell and leave the door ajar for the potential of a profitable reunion.
Ready to find someone to fill this finance and accounting role? Use Robert Half’s candidate finder.