Do I Have to Give Two Weeks' Notice Before Quitting a Job?

It’s long been the custom to give two weeks’ notice prior to leaving a job. But is it legally required?

It's common for American workers to provide their employers with two weeks' notice before quitting a job, so many people believe that doing so is legally required. It's not. No state or federal law requires you to notify your boss two weeks before leaving your job. If you're an at-will employee, you can leave at any time, and provide as much or as little notice as you'd like. That said, there are still good reasons to provide at least two weeks' notice if you can.

If you're planning to quit your job, here's a breakdown of some of the legal issues you'll want to consider.

Giving Notice If You're an At-Will Employee

Most U.S. workers are employed "at will," meaning your employer can fire you at any time and for any reason (as long as it's not discriminatory or retaliatory). By the same token, if you're an at-will employee, you can quit your job whenever you want, for any reason or no reason at all. And you don't have to give your boss a heads-up that you're leaving. This is true even if your employee handbook indicates that two weeks is the standard notice period.

However, it still makes sense to provide at least two weeks' notice before leaving your job. It gives your employer time to look for a replacement, and it gives you time to wrap up whatever you're working on, or transfer your duties to a co-worker. Your employer is more likely to give you a positive recommendation and keep you in mind for future opportunities if you don't leave them in the lurch. Similarly, your co-workers will appreciate not having to pick up the slack if you quit without warning.

There are times, of course, when providing notice isn't possible. For example, if your physical or mental health are in jeopardy, you're being harassed or discriminated against, or you have a family emergency that needs immediate attention, you might not be able to give notice before leaving.

Regardless of whether you're able to give advance notice, your resignation is likely to go more smoothly if you're able to talk to your manager about it (or send an email if necessary), keep your communications professional, and do what you can to ease the transition.

Giving Notice If You Have an Employment Contract

If your job is governed by a contract for something other than at-will employment (for example, a contract requiring you to work for your employer for a set period of time), then you are required to abide by the terms of that contract when you quit. For example, if the contact says you must give three weeks' notice prior to leaving, then you are legally obligated to do so.

Other Legal Considerations When Quitting Your Job

Unemployment Benefits

As a general rule, you aren't entitled to unemployment benefits if you quit your job voluntarily. But if you have "good cause" to quit, you may still be eligible. Good cause means a legally valid reason for quitting. Each state has its own laws about what constitutes good cause, but most states agree that you have good cause to quit if you leave for reasons related to:

  • domestic violence
  • medical issues such as a disability, illness or injury, or
  • constructive discharge (when your work situation was so intolerable that you were forced to quit, such as in situations involving harassment or unsafe working conditions).

To show good cause for quitting, you normally have to make an effort to resolve your concerns with your employer first.

Health Insurance Benefits

You are entitled to continued health insurance coverage after you quit your job. Under the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), if your employer has 20 or more employees, it must give you the option of continuing to be covered by its group health insurance plan for a specific period of time (often 18 months) after you leave. This option is also available for a worker's spouse and dependent children. If you select COBRA coverage, however, you are responsible for paying the cost of the full premium.

Some states have their own health insurance continuation laws that provide broader coverage than COBRA. These laws might provide more benefits or cover smaller employers than COBRA. Your employer is required to follow whichever law is most beneficial to you.

Return Your Employer's Property

When you leave your job, make sure you don't take any business records, client information, or any other property belonging to your employer. If you have a lot of equipment and aren't sure what belongs to whom, ask. Taking your employer's physical or intellectual property, even mistakenly, might be illegal.

Getting Your Final Paycheck

When you quit your job, your employer is required to give you your final paycheck in a timely manner. In no case may your employer give you your last paycheck later than your next regularly-scheduled payday. In some states, you are entitled to your last paycheck much earlier than that—usually within one to four days. If you haven't returned your employer's property or you otherwise owe them a debt, some states allow your employer to withhold money from your final paycheck.

Contacting an Employment Lawyer

Practical questions such as when to give notice or whether you want COBRA insurance are generally straightforward and don't require legal counsel. If you're dealing with more substantive issues—for example, if you haven't received all of the compensation to which you're entitled, or you're leaving your job because you believe your employer acted illegally during your employment—contact an experienced employment attorney to explore your options.

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