Many readers will be surprised to learn that the obligation to give notice of termination of employment is two-sided. The requirement that an employer give advance notice to an employee is well known. Just as the company is obliged by law to do so, the employee has the same legal obligation when resigning from a job. This is not as well known or understood.
The damage claim an employer may make against an employee who fails to give proper notice is considerable. Take, for example, an extreme situation to illustrate the principle. A senior marketing vice-president of a large company is in the middle of presenting a bid for a major contract in a competitive market. The contest is down to two finalists. His presence is critical to the success of the bid. He resigns abruptly prior to the final presentation, and his company loses the bid.
The employer may well successfully argue that the sudden departure of its key executive led to the loss of this opportunity. Its damage claim may well be the potential increase in profits associated with this contract.
The amount of notice required will vary with the situation. In a case such as the one described above, the employee's notice obligation may be as much as six months.
In real life, this type of claim is rare. When it is made, it is usually accompanied by allegations of stealing trade secrets or similar breaches of confidence. Nonetheless, such a claim is indeed possible and both sides must be aware of this issue.
Just as an employment contract may set out the terms with respect to termination in advance, a contract can also include a term dictating the notice required upon resignation. Such a term could even stipulate the expected damage claim the employer may suffer where there has been a violation, as long as it is reasonable.
This may be appropriate where the employer commits to an expensive period of intensive training for the new hire and wants an assurance, in turn, from the employee that they will remain employed for a certain time period to rationalize this expense. The term may even include some form of compensation for the training where there has been a breach.
Generally, when an employee delivers a voluntary resignation that is in turn accepted by the employer, a contract is made in which both parties have agreed to the notice period provided. There can be exceptions to this general rule as occurred in one recent case, English v. Manulife Financial Corporation. In this instance, the employee retracted their resignation which was refused by the employer. The Court of Appeal found that the employer had not closed the door to the employee rescinding her resignation and was clearly sympathetic to the employee's mistaken decision to resign.
Takeaways for Employees and Employers
The issue of how much notice is required upon resignation is determined based on the context of the situation. Courts will examine how vulnerable the employer was to damages arising from a sudden resignation, and how much time would be required to locate and train a suitable replacement. It is not a mathematical formula that can be applied the same way across the board.
Generally speaking, most companies will not demand a long advance period of working notice. Often, the best course of action for an employee looking to resign on good terms is to negotiate a reasonable notice period with their employer.
Once the two parties agree to the period of working notice, an agreement has then been made. Should the employee break this contract, then there could be a damage claim asserted by the company for its proven consequential losses. If the employer terminates the agreement by asking the employee leave before the end of the notice period, then the employee could claim the statutory minimum sums and the balance of the resignation period, if greater.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.