What are the guidelines around resignations – how to do it, and what are the timelines? Some people give two weeks' notice, some a month. What is the right thing to do so I leave in good standing?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Partner, Whitten & Lublin Employment & Labour Lawyers, Toronto
Just as an employer has to provide an employee with reasonable advance notice of termination (or it is a wrongful dismissal), an employee has to provide an employer with reasonable advance notice of a resignation (or it is a wrongful resignation).
However, the amount of resignation notice that an employee should provide is very different than the amount of termination notice an employer should provide, with the latter amount usually being far greater. A fair resignation-notice period is usually assessed with reference to how long it should take an employer to replace that employee. Employees in a specialized position or an industry with little mobility should provide longer resignation-notice periods than employees in a space that has frequent turnover and where replacement options are abundant. As well, an employee should not resign with limited notice if doing so would leave an employer in a particularly vulnerable situation. For example, resigning on the verge of a big presentation or trade show, leaving an employer in the lurch.
The main exception to the general rule is where there is a specific policy, contractual clause, guideline or even an accepted custom that dictates how much notice is reasonable. In these cases, an employee who provides either less or more notice than the stipulated amount can be held to the contractual standard. Usually, when asked to comply with the contract, an employee will quickly reconsider the initial resignation notice in order to adhere. Less commonly, a failure to comply can be treated as any other contractual violation – an employer has the right to pursue damages for any related losses. Few employers actually proceed with claims for wrongful resignation, but the threat of doing so is often enough to have employees reconsider their stances.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Vice-president, VF Career Management, Calgary
Over the past few years, employees quitting roles in grandstanding ways have often made the news. While screaming a resignation on an airplane may make someone a short-term social-media star, it's not a career-enhancing move. Leave on a high note, regardless of how you feel about the job.
If there's no specified notice period in the contract, between two and three weeks' notice is plenty, depending on the seniority of the role. The purpose of this notice period is for the employee to transition files and work to the team, so they can carry on until a replacement is found. This also gives the employer time to plan what they want to do with the role. Especially in professional roles, rarely are positions filled within the notice period; nor are they expected to be.
Draft a letter of resignation. Make it brief, stating what your final day of work will be. You can also add in a line expressing your appreciation for the opportunity to contribute to the company. Wherever practical, arrange to meet with your supervisor to present your resignation letter in person, telling her or him your intent to leave and when your last day will be.
If your supervisor asks why you're leaving, keep it professional: You're moving to a new role more aligned with where you'd like to take your career. Don't use the question as an opportunity to air grievances. If an exit interview is offered, that usually is a more appropriate place to give feedback on what the company might have done better in order to retain you, or areas where it could improve its overall employee engagement.
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