On the face of it, you’d think resigning from your job was pretty straight forward. You decide to leave because you’ve had a better offer or you’re moving out of the area or you’re starting your own business – or you just can’t stand the job any more – so you just pick up the phone or walk into your manager’s office and say “I’m leaving. Bye bye!” Simple, right?
Wrong! As with most things in employment, there’s more to it than that.
Most people will have heard of the phrase “handing in your notice” but may not be sure exactly what it means. It stems from the fact that employment contracts cannot normally be terminated immediately – you need to give “notice” (i.e. advanced warning) of your intention to leave, just as your employer has to give you notice of his intention to dismiss you. There are exceptions to this, e.g. in the event of gross misconduct, or if your work permit runs out, but generally-speaking both parties are required to signal their intention to terminate the contract in advance.
Contractual and statutory notice periods
In your contract of employment there should be a section about notice periods and giving notice. Usually, notice must be given in writing, and there will be a minimum amount of notice required by either party to the contract before the employment can be ended. It could be a week or a month, or some other specified amount of time, depending on your seniority and length of service with the business. Your contractual notice period cannot be shorter than the statutory minimum notice periods laid down by law. If your contract doesn’t cover notice periods (or you were not given a written contract) then the default position will be the statutory minimum, which in the case of an employee is a week, and in the case of an employer depends on your length of service and can be up to 12 weeks.
By law, if your resignation is not in writing and if it does not specify the date of your departure, it is not effective, and your company could refuse to accept it unless and until you provide the correct written information.
So, if you do just march into your manager’s office, announce your departure, and walk out there and then, you are breaching your contract – not only by failing to give notice in writing, but also by not giving the requisite amount of notice. If doing so causes your employers a financial loss (perhaps because they have to hire a temp to do your work until they can employ a replacement) then you can be sued for damages. Even if there is no financial loss, you are unlikely to get a positive reference if you behave in such a manner.
A written resignation (which can be in the form of a letter or an email) doesn’t have to be long winded, but it should say, at the very least: “I am writing to give you (x weeks’) notice of my intention to resign from my position, in accordance with my contract of employment. My last working day will be (date).” The date should be no earlier than the expiry of your minimum period of notice in your contract – but it can be longer. If you know that you are emigrating in three months’ time but you are only obliged to give a month’s notice, you don’t have to wait until a month before your departure to let your employer know. It is courteous in such a situation to give your employer longer notice, so that they have more time to find a replacement before you go.
Resignation with immediate effect
In some circumstances, if you resign verbally and walk out straight away, your resignation may be accepted by the company notwithstanding your failure to conform to the legal requirements. In this case, they will write acknowledging your resignation and agreeing to release you immediately from your contractual obligations. They will do this if it suits them to end your employment relationship quickly, and probably means they are as fed up with you as you are with them!
However, if your manager recognises that you resigned “in the heat of the moment” and is savvy, he/she will give you a day or two to calm down and think better of it. It is NEVER a good idea to resign in a fit of anger or frustration, and it is often the case that such an outburst is fairly rapidly followed by a retraction. Once you’ve had a chance to think it through, you will realise it wasn’t really a good idea to throw away your livelihood in a fit of pique. The risk remains, however, that your company takes you at your word and does accept your resignation, leaving you out of a job…
Pressure to resign
Sometimes you may feel under pressure to resign for some reason, for example when you are advised that disciplinary action is about to be taken. You may be worried that being invited to a disciplinary meeting means you are going to be fired there and then, and would rather jump than be pushed. Nobody wants their employment record tainted by a dismissal. But again, I would urge you NOT to resign just because you are facing disciplinary action.
For a start, a disciplinary meeting does not necessarily mean you will be dismissed, so don’t jump to conclusions about the outcome. You have the right to be accompanied at a disciplinary meeting, and importantly you will have a chance to state your case. You may be able to persuade the company that you have not done anything wrong, or explain any mitigating circumstances. The outcome may be a disciplinary sanction that falls short of dismissal. And if you are dismissed after a disciplinary meeting, you will still have the right of appeal, so the decision to dismiss you may be overturned. During the process you will have the chance to take some professional advice to help you defend yourself, and you will buy yourself some valuable time during which to plan for the future should the worst happen.
If you resign rather than facing the disciplinary meeting, you will have boxed yourself into a corner from which your chances of a good outcome are significantly reduced.
If your employer says to you: “We’re inviting you to a disciplinary meeting, but you might want to resign instead” then you will be entitled to resign and claim Constructive Dismissal. But again, think very carefully before yielding to that kind of pressure. If you resign you may find when you go to claim Job Seekers Allowance that you are deemed to have made yourself intentionally unemployed, and may not be able to get benefits straight away. For how long can you pay the bills without an income? Yes, you may go to an Employment Tribunal and gain some compensation, but it will typically take a number of months before your case is heard, and what will you do for money in the meantime? How quickly do you think you can get another job in these tough economic times?
So if you don’t have another job to go to, or enough savings to tide you over for a good few months, you should think very carefully before leaving your job. As with marriage, if you resign in haste, you may end up repenting at leisure.