Two Weeks’ Notice?

by Jennifer Ward

The last 20 years in the workplace have seen sweeping change: resume submission by paper in the mail to computerized applicant tracking systems, hard copy live paychecks to direct deposit, and completely cashless businesses. Longstanding practices and traditions have died out, whether as a result of being replaced by technological innovation or simply because they couldn’t keep pace with the high rate of change. One such practice that has been called into question lately is the practice of giving two weeks’ notice of resignation.

There’s plenty of chatter in the workplace about the issue of “job hopping” and whether it should disqualify a candidate from consideration for a position. A variety of explanations have been given for this practice, but, regardless of the reason, it results in a lot of turnover. The cost of employee turnover is felt in a variety of ways and can be astronomical. The immediate cost of turnover is often related to the triage necessary to figure out how a departing employee’s workload will be covered. Depending on the position, this is generally accomplished through a combination of scrambling to hire a replacement or a temporary employee, de-prioritizing non-essential tasks, and drafting other employees to cover the work (often including the manager, who may need to put strategic initiatives aside to focus on operational tasks).

In a perfect world, managers would have enough notice that someone is quitting to be able to have a replacement in training before they leave. From the employee’s perspective, once they have decided to make a change and particularly once they have a new position waiting, their last day can’t come fast enough. There’s no clear origin of the concept of two weeks’ notice, but it may be a compromise between these competing perspectives.

A common misconception is that two weeks’ notice is a legal requirement. There is no federal or Arizona law that makes this a requirement. Arizona is an “at-will employment” state, which means that either the employee or the employer can end the relationship at any time for any reason or no reason.

Another common misconception is that if an employee gives two weeks’ notice, the employer is obligated to let them work the remaining two weeks or pay them their salary for the two weeks. Neither is true; once an employee gives notice, the employer can terminate their employment immediately with no obligation to pay those two weeks’ wages.

Many employers wonder whether they can require employees to give two weeks’ notice. Creating such a requirement is legally risky because it can give the appearance of a contractual relationship and undermine the benefits of at-will employment. One option that generally works under Arizona law is to state in an employee handbook that accrued, unused vacation time will be paid out on resignation only if the employee gives at least two weeks’ notice. Arizona has no requirement that vacation is paid out at termination unless the employer states that they will do so, and in most cases placing a notice condition on payment is legally acceptable and helps encourage employees to give proper notice. Other states have different laws regarding vacation payout, so it’s wise to check with qualified counsel to determine whether this is an option outside of Arizona.

Ultimately, the best way to encourage employees to give proper notice is to create a healthy workplace culture. Culture has been defined as “how we do things around here.” When employees are treated with respect, they are more likely to reciprocate and treat the employer with respect. That respect could extend to an employee desire to avoid leaving the employer in a difficult place by giving proper notice of two weeks or more.

Regardless of the amount of notice given, employers should consider the effect on the remaining employees of how managers handle the transition. An important rule of thumb is to treat the departing employee with dignity and respect. Even if there were some performance challenges or personality conflicts, managers should allow the employee to leave gracefully and should not disparage the employee to their former co-workers.

Jennifer Ward is the Arizona President of the Employers Council. An ASU undergraduate who eventually went on to earn her law degree at the University of Southern California, Ward’s legal background and her employment law expertise have helped serve countless Valley businesses, empowering employers with the necessary tools and resources to effectively manage, develop and support employees to the highest degree. Ward joined Employers Council in 2014 as a staff attorney and was promoted to the position of Arizona President in January 2017.

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