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.
Can You Quit Without Notice?
When that happens, the first question on many people’s minds is, “Do I have to give two weeks’ notice?” The next question is, “What happens if I can’t—or don’t want to—provide notice?”
The Law Is on Your Side (But Beware)
Can you quit a job without notice? For many U.S. employees, the answer is, “Yes.” But that doesn’t mean that it’s wise to leave in a hurry.
Under normal circumstances, it’s best to give the standard notice—but there may be no legal reason why you can’t quit on the spot.
At-Will Employment. 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.
When You Have a Contract. 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.
How to Decide When to Quit on Short Notice
Why is it best to give notice, given that you likely have no legal obligation to do so? Even during difficult employment situations, you may find these factors to be compelling reasons to give standard notice:
Maintaining your relationship with the employer. Even if you have no intention of ever working for this employer again, it makes sense to avoid burning your bridges. 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?
Possible financial repercussions. While there’s likely nothing stopping an employer from cutting short your notice period, many employers will be happy to let you finish out your two weeks. Not only does this provide you with two additional weeks of pay, it also gives you time to line up other employment, if you haven’t already done so. Depending on the nature of your job, you may also have to pay penalties if you leave abruptly.
If you’re a contract worker, for example, and you leave before your contract is up, you might find yourself paying penalties.
So, should you quit without giving notice? Employees who are working under very difficult circumstances, or have just started a job and know it isn't going to work out, often 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. Of course, there are always exceptions.
When you have considered all the reasons that staying might make sense, and find that none of them apply, it's time to consider the timing of your departure. Should you stick it out for another couple of weeks or are there occasions 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 where leaving sooner might be advisable, including the following:
- An employee has been physically abusive.
- A supervisor has sexually harassed you.
- The work environment is hostile or otherwise 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 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 the job.
Before You Quit Your Job
Talk to HR. 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 your giving notice.
Find support. In some cases, it will also make sense to consult a counselor or therapist to help you cope with job stress. Regardless, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a support system—friends, family, etc.—in place before you make a change.
Make a financial plan. 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.
- Talk to your boss. 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.
- Be professional. Learn 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.
- Help when you can. Even if you can’t stay for a whole two weeks, do what you can to leave on a positive note. This might mean offering an update on the state or your projects for supervisors or team members, or making yourself available for questions after your departure.
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.