Answer: no, it is not illegal to quit your job without notice, even though by doing so you may open yourself up to civil liability or other contractual troubles depending on the agreements made with the company.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Is It Illegal To Quit a Job Without Notice? (Discussion)
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At-Will Employment/Contractual Obligations
In general, unless the employer and employee have entered into an agreement to an alternate arrangement, employers are free to terminate an employee without notice and without grounds for termination, and employees are free to quit any time.
It’s called “at-will” employment.
It is professional to provide the employer with advance notice of the intent to quit, though the employer could take steps to terminate the employee immediately upon the given notice.
It is also professional for the employer to provide advance notice to the employee that the employee’s job will be terminated.
However, many employers and employees agree to other conditions and terms of employment, such as:
- giving a certain amount of notice before terminating the employee
- giving a certain amount of notice before employee quits (unless there is good cause)
- establishing a length of employment (6 months, one year, etc)
- termination for cause (and what constitutes cause)
If an employee quits his job without notice (on the spot) contrary to the terms and conditions that he has agreed to, he might be in breach of contract.
But this doesn’t mean that he has done anything “illegal” or that would result in a criminal prosecution.
He might find himself getting sued for the various ways he breached of contract, or for the return of money or stock that was paid as part of the contractual agreement.
But assuming that no other illegalities were committed, the employee’s quitting without a professional amount of notice should not result in a criminal prosecution.
What Kind Of Employment Illegalities Could There Be?
To be prosecuted, the employee has to violate a specific criminal law.
If an employee quits on the spot and fails to return company property (laptops, cell phones, cars, uniforms), then he is in possession of something that he no longer has the right to possess (theft).
If an employee takes information from the company when he quits without permission (trade secrets, client lists or contact information, competitor analysis), then he is in possession of something he has no right to possess (theft).
If the employee causes physical damage to anything on his way out of the office for the last time, he has committed criminal mischief or disorderly conduct.
If the employee causes significant harm to the company by quitting and leaving the company hanging, if the employees intent was to harm the company financially, then he could be prosecuted.
Could There Be Good Reason To Quit Without Advance Notice (Even If There Are Contractual Restrictions)?
There are any number of reasons or events that could justify quitting without providing notice.
But what constitutes a good reason for one employee might not necessarily be a good reason for another.
There are other issues to consider when you want to quit, such as:
- whether the employee can find another job quickly
- whether the employee will be able to apply for and receive unemployment benefits
- will the employee still have health insurance
Quitting a job should be something carefully considered, unless leaving the job asap is vital to protect the health and safety of the employee from imminent harm.
Instead of just quitting (if the circumstances allow it), consider conferring with an employment attorney who can help review the contract and the reasons for wanting out of it asap, and perhaps that lawyer can help smooth the way to a more professional transition than a mic drop.
Reasons To Stick It Out
If there is nothing illegal, unethical, or career destroying happening at work, quitting without notice might not be the best move.
Quitting without notice can destroy the relationship with the employer, which matters even if the employee don’t want to work for him any more.
The notice period does several things. It allows the employer time to find a replacement, to wrap up projects, to transfer information, and to otherwise prepare for the change.
Without notice, everyone ends up scrabbling.
Without notice, the employer may be less likely to give the employee a good reference should anyone contact him.
The abrupt transition may also poison the well for the employees former co-workers, who will eventually become managers or own companies of their own one day in the same industry.
This can close other doors for the employee.
Further, if the employee needs work in the future, it is unlikely the employer would hire him back.
Quitting without notice can result in financial pain.
While the boss has to pay the employee up until the last day, the employee may not yet have another job lined up.
If the employee planned his exit a little more in advance, the paychecks might line up a little better so there wasn’t a monetary gap.
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