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Employment law

Can I walk out of my job without working my notice?

If your working day is getting you down, do you sometimes imagine getting up from your desk and shouting “I quit” before marching towards the door in a blaze of glory? That’s the fantasy, but if you’ve a job with a long notice period, can you actually just walk out?

10 February 2023

You’d not be alone if you've been considering walking out of your job. With the rise of ‘quiet quitting,’ and nationwide union walkouts; job dissatisfaction is high among today’s workforce.

In 2022, 47% of British workers admitted they thought about quitting their job within the last 3 months, with pay and work/life balance being the main factors of job dissatisfaction.

While the grand exit you’ve been fantasising about may be tempting, you’re normally expected to make your intentions of leaving clear by providing notice. The length of your notice period will differ depending on the type of role and how long you’ve been with the business. Senior or specialised roles may require longer notice periods to be served, so your employer has adequate time to search for a suitable replacement, or internally train a team member to fill your position.

However, many factors can contribute to you deciding you don't want to work the full length of your notice; if any time at all. In this blog we've considered what you need to know if you're eying up the exit door of your job and considering not serving full notice.

What is my notice period?

In the UK, if an employee is looking to move on from their job, they’re usually required to give their employer warning through notice. Your notice period should be clearly outlined in your employment contract. Therefore, it’s important you read this document carefully to make sure you agree with the notice terms in the event you wish to resign.

If your employment contract doesn’t state what your notice period is, you should typically give at least one week’s notice before you leave your role. It’s best to provide your resignation in writing, such as in an email or letter. In this, you’ll need to state how much notice you’re giving and when your last day at work will be. Your notice period will begin the day after you formally resign.

How much notice you will actually work may differ regardless of whether or not you were intending to serve full notice. There are various routes you and your employer may take to establish exactly how much notice you’ll work, if any time at all, based on your relationship or position.

Do I have to work my notice period?

Let’s set the scene. You’ve decided enough is enough, you’ve finished work for the day, and have no intention of coming back in the morning. You’ve checked your contract and realised you have a six month notice period and you’re thinking, “Do I really have to work this?”

A notice period is a legal clause in your contract, and to break this agreement by refusing to work your notice is to be in breach of your contract, and could leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit. However, it’s costly for the employer to pursue legal action against you, and they can use the pay they wouldn’t owe you to offset against any losses. Although, they still may be able to prove damages as a result of you walking out without notice, and therefore could form a case against you.

While the length of notice you need to provide may be clear in your contract, you may be unsure whether this notice is still applicable based on a number of different circumstances that may affect your position. We’ve outlined below what contract statuses could impact your notice period, and how to deal with them.

  • Probation. Probationary periods can vary in different roles; some are as short as three months whereas others can be six months and more. That’s also being considerate of any probation extensions your employer may issue. If you’re on probation, the amount of notice you‘d give will likely be shorter than what you’d provide after passing probation. If your employer has neglected to provide a set term for notice, and you’ve been in the position for less than a month, you’re not obligated to provide notice. Beyond a month, it’s advised to provide at least statutory minimum notice - which is one week.
  • Full-time and part-time contracts. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full time or part time employee; your notice period will usually be outlined in your contract. If not, it’s best to always give one week’s notice as the statutory minimum. It’s also a professional courtesy, and can keep your relationships with managers amicable to provide at least some notice, if not clearly stated in your contract.

Your notice period and how it's worked will be decided between you and your employer. This is why it’s best not to be hasty and walk out the door before setting up contact with your employer, as you may be able to reach a solution.

In many roles, there are typical duties that may be impacted by your upcoming exit. For example, if you’re customer facing, or handle client information, they may feel your level of performance will suffer, or you’ll pass on sensitive details to competitors. That’s the last thing your employer wants, and in these events they may place you on shorter leave, or ‘garden leave.’

If placed on garden leave, you won’t be expected to work, however will technically remain an employee till your final day of notice and will be paid as normal until then.

What if my employer breaches my contract?

What if the roles were reversed, and your employer breaches your contract? Perhaps they’ve not properly paid you for work you’ve done, made unreasonable changes to your work schedule, taken away contractual benefits or allowed people to bully or harass you at work.

In any of these circumstances, you can raise a grievance with your employer to correct these issues. If you believe the damage is already done, and want to leave immediately, regardless of whether these issues can be resolved, you and your employer would have to come to an agreement. By not allowing your employer to address these issues, you’re still breaching your contract by leaving without notice.

If you’ve presented to your employer a serious mistake they’ve made, and they’ve failed to address it, you could be able to make a constructive dismissal claim, depending on the circumstances. However, be aware you can only usually claim constructive dismissal if you’ve worked for your employer for at least 2 years, but there are exemptions to this rule. Learn more about constructive dismissal claims here.

If you walk out of a job, do they have to pay you?

Let’s face it; if there’s one thing holding you back from storming out from your desk chair, never to return, it’s most likely because of pay.

You should receive normal pay during your notice period, including any benefits you’re entitled to and pension contributions. However, if you neglect to give notice to your employer, and refuse to work it, the employer is not obligated to pay you for any notice you did not work. They may even dock holiday pay if you neglect to provide notice, so it’s best to be mindful of what income you could miss out on if you were to take this course of action. You would not be obliged to pay your employer the unworked notice either. However, by refusing to work your notice, you’re left vulnerable to a potential lawsuit where they could try and recover any losses or damages from you.

Can I take holiday during my notice period?

Ultimately, it’s up to your employer to decide whether you can take holiday while you work your notice period if you request it. If they allow you to do so, you’re entitled to your normal pay.

If you’ve booked holiday prior to resigning that coincides with your notice period, your employer may cancel your leave request. In most cases, the employer is likely to allow you to take holiday to save on having to pay you the extra unused annual leave.

When you leave, you’ll also be paid for any holiday allowance that you’ve accrued but haven’t taken. Your employer could instruct you to take any holidays you’ve not used up, or you can suggest using your holiday to shorten your notice period, but it’s up to the employer to allow you to do this. It’s worth consulting your employment contract for the details about leftover holidays. Read more about employers dictating holidays.

Can I work elsewhere during my notice period?

This could also be in breach of your contract. If you leave your job to work elsewhere during your notice period, your employer could instigate legal action to stop you doing this. They could potentially seek an injunction if they can prove you’ve left to work for a competitor, or if they believe you’re putting their business interests at risk, such as by potentially disclosing confidential and sensitive information.

For example, you’ve got up and left your Marketing Manager position at a Marketing Agency, and decided to work for their competitor. If you’ve failed to serve some, or any notice, they may suspect you’re passing on client information to the other agency and are planning to poach their clients. In this instance, if your employer was able to prove this, they may be able to seek an injunction.

How to quit a job without notice?

If you’re dead set on quitting your job without notice, you may be unaware how you can legally reach this solution with your employer. We’ve outlined below best practice on how to achieve this outcome.

1. Set up a discussion with your employer. As the saying goes, ‘communication is key.’ Set up a dialogue with your employer so that you can have a formal discussion about your plans to terminate your employment. By setting up this contact, you can prevent your relationship with your employer breaking down like it may have if you had just got up and left without a word, and it will give the employer a chance to discuss a solution with you.

2. State your reasons. Your employer will not likely be happy to hear you’re unable to work your notice without providing a solid reason why. Therefore, it is advised you provide your employer with substantial reasons for wanting to resign without serving notice. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable after a hostile situation with a coworker, or the duties of your role have dramatically shifted from what you originally agreed to. Your employer may be sympathetic to these issues and be able to present you with a resolution to these matters, or grant you the immediate exit you’re hoping for. If your reasons for seeking immediate resignation are related to workplace bullying or harassment, there are alternative legal actions you can take to address the matter. Read more about workplace harassment.

3. Decide whether you’re willing to make a compromise. The options you will be presented with after this discussion may vary as it is up to the employer. If your employer is unwilling to grant you an immediate resignation, they may still offer to shorten your notice period. In this instance, you need to decide whether you’re willing to settle and that you feel comfortable with this arrangement. If not, it’s important to think about whether you leaving would result in financial harm or result in other difficulties for them. If your absence is likely to cause your employer problems, both financially and logistically, they could bring legal action against you.

What can my employer do if I don’t work my notice period?

Your employer can’t restrain you from leaving the building, so there’s no chance of you being physically stopped if you were to pack up your personal belongings, walk out the door and not return. However, whether you leave without serving any notice period at all, or serve some of your notice and leave, you're likely to be breaching your contract. This means that your employer could potentially sue you.

Can I be taken to court for not working notice?

After breaching your contract by walking out, you can be sued for damages. Your former employer would have to show financial loss caused by your early departure. Damages aren’t the only thing your employer might want. Your employer could seek an injunction from the court. If it’s successful, this could stop you from going to work elsewhere until you’ve completed your notice period, or longer if you’ve gained a competitive advantage by breaching your contract.

If the impact of you leaving the business without giving notice is minimal, the chances of your employer suing you for leaving without working out your notice period is low. To a certain extent, it depends on what kind of role you’re in and what company you’re leaving your current job to work for.

For example, if you’re in a senior position and your role can’t be easily filled or you’re leaving for a competitor, the impact on the business may be considerable and your employer may be more likely to threaten action. If you’re a company director or you’re responsible for company assets or client money, you’re likely to have additional obligations, such as fiduciary duties, which you may have put at risk by walking out. Your employer, in this event, would be entitled to pursue legal action against you to recover any potential losses.

How can Slater and Gordon help?

The potential risks of leaving without serving your notice period will depend upon your individual circumstances. If you’re considering doing this, you should seek advice from Slater and Gordon Lawyers.

Our employment solicitors are highly trained and have the knowledge, skills and experience to handle your case.

If you’re facing legal action from your employer as a result of failing to work your notice period, we’ll work closely with you every step of the way, doing everything we can to help you achieve the outcome you’re aiming for.

For a consultation, you can call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0330 041 5869. Our contact centre is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Alternatively, you can contact us online and we’ll call you back at a time that suits you.

All information was correct at the time of publication.

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