Employment law

Failing to give an employer notice

Your employment contract includes an agreed notice period, whether that contract is verbal or in writing. This is intended to protect you and your employer. If you get up one day and walk out without giving notice, what's your legal position? Our expert employment lawyers explain in this brief guide to your rights and responsibilities.

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Can I walk out of my job without working my notice period?

We've all had days at work that made us want to resign on the spot, walk out the door and never come back.

While that's just an occasional daydream for most people, we understand that the pressures of some jobs can take you to the brink of walking out. But before you do, it's worth remembering that your contract will include some kind of notice period, meaning that resigning without notice can lead to legal problems.

This short guide is intended to explain some of the things you need to consider before quitting on the spot and failing to work your notice period.

If you need urgent advice from an employment solicitor about your situation, call us on 0330 041 5869, or contact us and we'll call you.

Why do I have a notice period?

Every contract of employment includes some sort of notice period. This is designed to protect you and your employer. In the event that you were dismissed or made redundant, this notice period would help ensure you had enough time and money to find another job. If you resign, your notice period gives your employer time to hire a suitable replacement, and make sure you've the time to complete or hand over any tasks or projects you're currently involved in.

What is my notice period?

In the UK, if an employee wants to leave their job, they're usually required to give their employer a fair warning. This is referred to in law as a notice period. Normally, your notice period will be set out in your employment contract.

This will detail exactly how much notice you need to give if you wish to resign, so it's important that you read this document carefully.

Even if your employment contract doesn't specify the length of a notice period, you're meant to give at least one week's notice before you leave your role if you've been in your job for more than one month.

It's also important to give your resignation in writing, stating how much notice you're giving your employer as well as when you believe your last day at work should be. Your notice period will begin the day after you formally resign.

Do I have to work my notice period?

An employment contract is a legal agreement between you and your employer, which gives you both rights and responsibilities. This means that, ideally, you should adhere to the notice period set out in your employment contract.

If you would prefer to give a shorter notice period than this – perhaps because you've been offered another job that needs to be started as soon as possible - you should speak to your employer to see if they're agreeable.

You may be able to reach an agreement with them whereby they waive or reduce your notice period, which means that you won't be breaching your employment contract. For more information, please see related content about how to negotiate out of your notice period.

If your employer doesn't agree to grant you a shorter notice period, it's important for you to think about whether your immediate departure would result in financial harm or other difficulties for them. If your absence is likely to cause your employer problems, both financially and logistically, they could bring legal action against you if you fail to work your agreed notice period.

Do I get paid during my notice period?

As long as you work your notice period, you should be paid normally until you leave, and should receive your usual benefits such as pension contributions. You should also be paid for any unused holiday entitlement once you leave. Where your employer doesn't want you to work your notice period for some reason, you should still be paid for the whole period. This is called being paid 'in lieu of notice.'

However, if you walk out without notice, it's most likely that you will only be paid for the days you've worked so far; and even that money may be in doubt if your employer wants to take legal action against you for failure to work your notice.

Can I take holidays during my notice period?

Ultimately, it's up to your employer to decide whether you can take holidays while you work your notice period if you request them. If they allow you to do so, and you've earned enough holiday entitlement, you're entitled to your normal pay for this time.

When you leave, you'll also be paid for any holiday allowance that you've accrued but haven't taken. However, your employer could instruct you to take any holidays you haven't used up during your notice period. It's worth consulting your employment contract for details about accrued holidays.

Can I work elsewhere during my notice period?

This could also be in breach of your contract. If you leave your job to work elsewhere during your notice period, your employer could instigate legal action to stop you doing this. For example, your employer could seek an injunction if they can prove you've left to work for a competitor, or if they believe you're putting their business interests at risk, such as by disclosing confidential or sensitive information.

What can my employer do if I don't work my notice period?

Your employer can't restrain you from leaving the building, so there's no chance of you being physically stopped if you decide to pack up your personal belongings, walk out the door and never return. However, if you leave without serving the correct notice period, it's possible that your employer could sue you for breach of contract.

What are the chances of being sued for not working notice?

In order to sue you for breach of contract your former employer would have to demonstrate that they had suffered a financial loss caused by your early departure.

Damages aren't the only thing your employer might want though. Your employer could also seek an injunction from the court to stop you from going to work elsewhere until you've completed your notice period, or for even longer if you've gained a competitive advantage by breaching your contract.

If the impact of you leaving the business without giving notice is minimal, the chances of your employer suing you for breach of contract is usually low.

To a certain extent, it depends on what kind of role you're in and your reasons for leaving.

However, if you're in a senior position and your role can't be easily filled, or you're leaving to join a competitor, the impact on the business may be considerable and your employer may be more likely to threaten action. If you're a company director or simply have responsibility for company assets or client funds, you're also likely to have additional obligations, such as fiduciary duties, which will also affect your employer's reaction to you resigning without giving notice.

How can Slater and Gordon help?

The potential risks of leaving without serving your notice period will very much depend upon your individual circumstances. If you're considering doing this - whether it's because you've found another job or simply find your current role unbearable - you should seek expert legal advice from Slater and Gordon's specialist employment solicitors before doing anything rash.

If your employer has treated you in a way which breaches your contract (most commonly the implied right of trust and confidence) you may be able to claim constructive dismissal.

Even if you've already walked out without giving notice, it's worth having a chat with us to find out what the legal ramifications might be.

Call us on 0330 041 5869 or contact us and we'll call you.

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