Reasons Not to Give Two Weeks Notice

Circumstances When You Don't Have to Give Notice to an Employer

Woman at desk in office thinking
Westend61 / Getty Images

There are plenty of good reasons to quit your job. In a perfect world, you’d always quit one gig because another, better opportunity appeared. Here in the real world, sometimes the decision to move on will be motivated less by exciting new horizons and more by wanting to escape a job you can't stand.

When that happens, the first question on many people’s minds is, “Do I have to give two weeks’ notice?” 

The Law Is on Your Side (But Beware)

Can you quit a job without notice? What's the best way to leave a job when you need to quit right away.

Under normal circumstances, it’s best to give the standard notice – but there’s probably no legal reason why you can’t quit on the spot.

The vast majority of states in the U.S. have at-will employment, which means that either the employer or the employee can sever the relationship with no notice and for no stated cause. This means that your boss cannot prevent you from walking out the door without giving two weeks’ notice, even if the employment handbook says that this is the standard for the company. However, if your employment is covered by an employment agreement, the terms of that contract may apply unless you are leaving for good cause.

Your employment contract may also require you to forfeit benefits like unused vacation leave if you don't provide sufficient notice.

That said, most of the time it’s in your best interest to give notice, even in difficult employment situations. You never know when a previous employer might be contacted by a prospective one, so it is wise to leave on the best possible terms. It can impact your future employment options if a prospective employer is told that you quit without notice. Think about it from an employer’s perspective: would you want to hire someone who might leave you hanging?

There’s also the possibility that there could be financial repercussions for quitting.

If you’re a contract worker, for example, and you leave before your contract is up, you might find yourself paying penalties.

Sticking It Out May Be in Your Best Interest

I often hear from employees who are working under very difficult circumstances, or just started a job and know it isn't going to work out, and aren't sure what to do. Generally speaking, if you want to quit, the answer is to give notice and then tough it out for two weeks.

When you have considered all the reasons where staying might make sense, and they don't, it's time to think about the timing of your departure. Should you stick it out for another couple of weeks or are there times when you can give less than two weeks’ notice or no notice at all?

Reasons Not to Give Two Weeks’ Notice

There may be some circumstances like the following where leaving sooner might be advisable:

  •  An employee has been physically abusive.
  • A supervisor has sexually harassed you.
  • The work environment is unsafe, or it is unsafe to carry out your assigned responsibilities.
  • Your mental health is being seriously endangered by job stress.
  • You have not been paid the agreed-upon wage or wages have been withheld for an unreasonable length of time.
  • You have been asked to do something which is clearly unethical or illegal.
  • Personal or family circumstances are such that you need to leave the job.
  • A crisis has happened in your life, and there is no way you can continue on the job.

    Before You Quit Your Job

    In most cases, it will make sense to contact the Human Resources department or management officials not directly involved with your grievance to discuss your situation. HR might be able to help you explore possible remedies or accommodations prior to giving notice.

    In some cases, it will also make sense to consult a counselor or therapist to help you cope with job stress. Do keep in mind that the company can't force you to stay. However, if you quit a job without good cause you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

    (Here's information on collecting unemployment benefits when you quit a job.)

    How to Quit Your Job

    Even if you're not giving much or any, advance notice, there are ways to resign gracefully. A conversation is always best, but if it's not possible to discuss your resignation with your supervisor in person, you can use a phone call or email message to resign. Here's how to quit your job with class, including when to quit, what to say and how to resign via email or a phone call, if necessary.

    The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.