Most employees in the United States are employed “at will,” which simply means that either the employee or the employer can end the employment relationship for any legal reason, or no reason at all, at any time. The law at the federal level has no requirement of giving a particular notice period when terminating a job.
That said, it’s still fairly customary – though not legally required – for employees to give notice to employers before walking away for good. However, this doesn’t always happen. In the absence of any type of contractual agreement that stipulates a notice period, most of the time an employee has the right to leave the job without notice if he or she so chooses. There are actually quite a few reasons the employee may opt to do this. Here are a few examples:
- He or she may feel the work environment can no longer be tolerated, and thus leaves as soon as is practical, such as immediately after accepting another job offer.
- The individual may have been offered another job and may simply want to take time off during the transition—which likely would not be possible by working during the notice period.
- Health concerns may necessitate an abrupt departure—which can happen even when the employer had no idea there were health problems. Health issues could also arise suddenly, of course. One such example might be a major health concern with a family member who now needs care—which may require an employee to quit if there is no leave available or if the leave is inadequate.
- The employee could have been upset with the employer or with specific coworkers and is leaving abruptly simply as a means to show his or her anger.
Regardless of the reason, when an employee leaves without notice, the employer must manage the next steps professionally.
What to Do When an Employee Quits Without Notice
When an employee quits without notice, it can be jarring. There are a lot of actions that need to be taken, and there is also typically an emotional fallout or frustration at the sudden departure. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) when an employee leaves suddenly:
- Know the company policy on whether or not a counter offer could be an option, when appropriate. If it is an option and is appropriate for the situation, take steps to put that offer in place. Note, however, that if the employee is not giving notice, there is less likelihood that a counter offer will be useful, but assess the situation first.
- Reassure other employees who worked closely with the individual. There will likely be some trepidation at the news that the team has suddenly changed. Explain to the other team members what will happen next so they know what to expect and know not to worry.
- Try to assess why the employee did not give notice. It could be as simple as a new opportunity came along that could not wait, but it could also be specific to the position he or she was leaving; perhaps the work environment was so bad, the employee did not want to spend another day working there. The key here is to assess whether there are things you can change that will reduce the likelihood that this will happen again.
- Resist the temptation to be vindictive in any way. When an employee leaves with no notice, it can put everyone in a tough spot. HR has to drop everything and finalize all tasks related to the employee leaving. The hiring team has to find a replacement immediately, in many cases. The rest of the team usually has to pick up the slack in the meantime. As such, it can be frustrating—and tempting to try to retaliate somehow. But it’s not a good idea. Some forms of retaliation, like attempting to withhold the final paycheck, are even illegal. And most other forms of retaliation are simply unprofessional and won’t change anything for the better.
- Get all your ducks in a row. There are a lot of things that need to happen when an employee leaves, and when there’s no notice, there’s no time to prepare. Don’t let the rush mean you forget something along the way. Consider creating a checklist of tasks for when an employee leaves to ensure nothing is forgotten.
- When applicable, put your succession plan into action, OR use this as an opportunity to reopen the discussion about the need for succession planning for key roles.
- Take steps, if possible, to facilitate the transfer of responsibilities. At least do some simple things like asking the leaving employee for information on the state of his or her work and any other pertinent information. Consider holding an impromptu exit interview, if possible (if this is standard at your organization). In other words, don’t let the sudden nature of the departure mean you lose the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about why the employee is leaving.
What other hurdles have you crossed when an employee leaves suddenly? What have you learned through this experience?