It’s standard practice for most workers to provide their employer with two weeks’ notice when deciding to resign, but not everybody is so considerate. Given the time and expense it takes to hire a replacement, not to mention the disruption in workflow and resultant decrease in both productivity and morale that sometimes accompanies an unexpected departure, you might be asking yourself if it’s acceptable to make giving notice before leaving a mandatory requirement. As tempting as this sounds, there are risks involved in doing so.
Employment Laws and Incentives
Nowadays, most states are classified as “employment-at-will,” meaning either the employer or employee can terminate their relationship at any time for any lawful reason. This doctrine does not stipulate that notice must be given by either party. One exception to this rule is to create an employment contract for a duration of time. Even without a contract, however, an employer can request advance notice of an employee’s intention to quit so they’ll have time to hire and train a replacement and reassign work in order to ensure deadlines are met and a backlog does not pile up. Should you do so, however, make sure you are merely requesting advance notice rather than making it a requirement. Otherwise, this may be construed as guaranteeing employment throughout the duration of the advance notice period.
Alternatively, in order to keep both sides happy and prevent misunderstandings, you could offer an incentive encouraging employees to provide advance notice before resigning. You might offer a bonus or severance package to those who provide an adequate, agreed-upon minimum notice (e.g., two weeks). Paying out accrued but unused vacation time can be another way to incentivize employees into giving notice. Please be aware of your state’s law in regard to vacation payouts, however; some states consider vacation accruals as earned wages and mandate an employer pay these hours upon separation, while others leave this up to the discretion of the employer.
If you do create incentives, be sure to communicate these clearly to all employees. Your policy might state that employment is considered at-will and employees are free to resign with or without giving notice, but that if two weeks’ notice is provided, they will receive any accrued but unused vacation time (or bonus/severance). Add that should no such notice be given, employees will not receive the vacation payout or other incentive.
Regardless of how you approach the situation, remember that it’s never acceptable to withhold pay if an employee does not give notice. Employers are required by law to pay employees for all wages earned, period.