“Will I be looked down upon in the business world if I give less than the 90 days of notice required by our employee handbook?”

Question: I plan to submit my notice of resignation in one week, giving my employer the word that I will be leaving in six weeks. I can’t give more than six weeks notice because I am starting a new job right after that. 

The problem is that I recently discovered that our company’s Employee Handbook says that employees are required to give at least 90 days notice of resignation; that’s almost 13 weeks.

I have read on so many blogs that many people who give notice are fired immediately. Many websites even say not to give any notice at all, but instead to simply tell your employer on the last day that you will not be coming back, because of the possibility of an immediate firing.

My concern is that my boss – who has incredible mood swings, one moment elated, the next moment in a horrible mood – will simply fire me on the spot if I give notice. My boss is so volatile that it has gotten to the point that I feel a sick feeling overcome me if I see her name come up on my caller ID. 

I cannot afford to lose my new job, and I cannot afford an immediate firing – which would result in the loss of six weeks pay. That would be devastating.
Can you offer any insights?

         Alexandria, Virginia

Answer: Doris, the dilemma you face is faced by so many employees. Let me share my thoughts.

1. Your First Obligation: To Yourself and Your Family: Your first and foremost obligation – above all others – is to take care of your family and yourself. That doesn’t mean that you should be selfish, or ignore the needs of others; it does mean that avoiding “devastating” financial circumstances is extremely high on your list of priorities. 

2. An Employment Handbook is Not a Contract: While I have not reviewed your company’s Employee Handbook, I am pretty sure it contains words to the effect that “This is not a contract.” More importantly, I am 99% sure it does not say, “The Company will give employees 90 days notice of termination.” Thus, it would seem neither you nor your employer is committed to giving the other 90 days’ notice when ending the relation.

3. You Must Manage Risks: In your email to me you are frank in admitting that losing six weeks pay is a risk you cannot afford to take. A large part of life is devoted to managing risks, from buying automobile insurance, to going for health checkups. You must engage in some risk management in this situation.

4. Past Employer Practices are Often Predictors of Future Employer Practice: You did not mention what your boss has done in the past when other employees have left. Has she kept them on for 90 days? Let them go immediately? Let them go as soon as she didn’t need them anymore? That would be helpful data in coming to a decision here. 

5. You Don’t Have a “90 Days or Zero Days” Choice: You, yourself, recognize that it is not a choice between 90 days notice or zero days notice. Why did you pick six weeks, when six weeks represents too much risk for you? Why not pick the traditional two weeks?  Perhaps one week? Perhaps two days? Could you survive no salary for those shorter pay periods? The shorter your notice period is, the more likely your boss will be angry; but the shorter your notice period is, the more likely it is your boss will not waste time with her anger, provided she can control herself. If I had a “vote” in this, I would “vote” that you give notice only to the extent you can afford to go without salary – because, sadly, I expect you will be terminated immediately when you give notice, no matter how much notice you give.  

6. You Also Have Alternative Ways of Dealing with Your Employer’s Transition Needs: You can also deal with the situation in different ways. Here are a few: (a) prepare a written guide to your job, to help your replacement in his or her transition; (b) ask your next employer if he or she minds if you take calls at work to now and then assist your employer and replacement with the transition; (c) try extra hard to complete all the projects and deals you may now be working on before you leave; (d) leave a list of important contacts and relations, their names, phone numbers, email addresses, and perhaps a note or two about each person, and how he or she is best motivated; and (e) take other steps and measures to give your employer every possible way to survive the transition, and your replacement to grow swiftly into the role.

7. Lastly, I Suggest You Consider Providing Your Employer with a Kind of Written “Resignation, Rationale and Report” when Giving Notice: I would like you to consider a Resignation Memo that includes (a) actual notice, (b) the reason(s) (expressed diplomatically) you gave only one or two weeks notice – or none at all – and (c) the several ways you have acted so “ultra-professionally,” that is, that you have (i) given as much notice as possible, (ii) done all you can to ease your employer’s and replacement’s transition needs, and (iii) will continue to do so in the future, to the extent you can. And write it beautifully and from the heart; it might just be something to show future employers should any of them hear from your present boss that you did not do the “right thing.”

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo or a detailed checklist to help you resign from your job [click here].  

Hope this is helpful. If it is, I would love to hear from you in a few weeks to hear (a) what you decided to do, (b) what you did, and (c) how you’ve done. We are beginning a new feature called “Walking Taller at Work” which shares with readers the experiences of those, like you, who write in. 

          Best, Al Sklover   

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.