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THE QUESTION

I work for a small business. My boss is on vacation for a month and I am the next person in command. A few days into his vacation, I received a job offer for a new position that I would like to accept. However, they need me to start in two weeks. My contract says that only two weeks’ notice is required, but I’m not sure what to do because my boss is away. Is it okay for me to resign while he’s on vacation? And who should I be submitting my resignation to if he’s away?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Nadini Dukhu, senior human resources consultant, MaxPeople HR, Toronto

If there is no one physically present to whom you may submit your resignation, the last thing you want to do is walk off the job. Many times candidates don’t realize that they can go back to their prospective employer and ask for an extension to their start date. If an employer wants to hire you, they usually don’t mind waiting a few extra weeks, especially in this highly competitive environment. Requests such as these demonstrate good faith for your prospective employer as it demonstrates your commitment and work ethic. Furthermore, if the new employer had to rescind the offer, starting over the recruitment process would be costly and time-consuming.

Once you know your prospective employer’s response, it would be prudent to contact your manager on vacation and let them know the details of your resignation unless their vacation is coming to the end and waiting until they return may be better. Reaching out via e-mail or text message to let them know of your need to arrange a conversation on an urgent basis would be best. Throughout your communication, be honest, humble and flexible. Work together to create an exit plan that is suitable for all parties.

From a moral and ethical perspective, ensuring you have appropriately created a handover plan, closed off as many open projects and tasks as possible and returned all company property will help you to secure a reference opportunity and to maintain positive, professional relationships that will assist you both in the short and long term.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Alison Longmore, partner, Jewitt McLuckie & Associates, Ottawa

Normally, your employment contract governs the terms and conditions of your employment, so you should be entitled to rely on a clause permitting you to resign with two weeks’ notice to your employer (assuming your boss is reachable while on vacation). However, the fact that it is a small business and you are “in command” while your boss is on vacation complicates the situation.

Employment contracts have “implied” terms, including one where employees owe a duty of good faith to their employer. If you are acting in the shoes of your boss, you may also have fiduciary duties to the company such that, if your boss is unable to quickly replace you and the business suffers financially because of your resignation, your boss could try to sue you for “wrongful resignation” to recover business losses caused by your resignation. It is unclear whether your boss is the owner of the business, if anyone is “above” your boss or if another employee could replace you. In your case, two weeks’ notice should be reasonable and your boss would be expected to plan for contingencies such as illness or unexpected absences, but it is complicated by whether your boss receives your notice and can respond to it.

Therefore, prior to submitting your resignation, I recommend you seek legal advice. Your rights and responsibilities depend on your situation and workplace. The purpose of notice is to give an employer time to replace you. Even though your boss is on vacation, there is a good chance that they are reachable by phone or e-mail.

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