What is a notice period?

What is a notice period?

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Coming to the point when you want to leave a job is never pleasant.  It might be quite simple, as you may have found a different role.  Even if it is simple, you will still need to go through the process of learning how to write a resignation letter and working through your notice period. It may be more drastic, as you may be leaving because you are unhappy and have no plans for the future.  Therefore, it may be that you need to think about learning a new skill or training for a new job and looking into online courses may be appropriate.

However, before you can think about moving on, you also need to know any notice period that you are expected to serve.   You must understand your employee rights and obligations when looking to secure a new post or to move on from a workplace.  Here we cover the basics to help you make your move more comfortably.

What is a notice period?

Your notice period is the time you are expected to work after you have told your employer that you would like to leave.  Your employer also has this responsibility  as they may have to provide a reasonable notice period before your employment ends.  This responsibility obviously depends on the circumstances – as some dismissals can be instant.

The notice period is a time to allow you to find a new position and the employer to find your replacement.

What is your current notice period?

employee leaving office after working notice period

Being aware of your current notice period is important when you hand in your resignation, as it depends on your job and the contract you signed.  If you are unsure how long your notice period should be, then it is best to check.  You may not be keen to ask your employer, but you could try reading through your employee handbook or contacting HR instead.

The law states that you must have a minimum notice period of one week if you have been employed for a month or more.  However, if you are in a senior position or your role is essential to the work of the company, you may have to work longer.  It is especially important to leave on good terms from an employer, so trying your best to negotiate the right period is essential.

Can I refuse to work my notice period?

Usually, you will be contractually obliged to work your notice period. However, you and your employer may be able to come to an agreement in regards to this. For example, your employer could agree for you to not work your full notice period for with deducted pay for any part of the period that you haven’t worked. On the other hand, your employer could completely waive your notice period in some cases.

There are alternatives to refusing to work your notice period. For example, if your employer agrees with your ideas, they could put you on garden leave or something similar.

However, if you don’t work your notice period as agreed with your employer, you will be in breach of your contract. This means that your employer may legally be able to sue you. So, although there may be resentment for your current employer or excitement for your future business, the best course of action is to discuss your notice period with your employer.

Is a notice period legally binding?

office worker packing up belongings after working his notice period

Since there is a legal requirement to provide notice, the notice period that follows is legally binding. Failing to provide or serve a notice period could mean a contract breach, which can lead to legal proceedings. If you don’t comply with the rules of your notice period, your employer may terminate your contract without warning or payment.

How to hand in your notice period letter

The process for handing in your notice could mean the difference between leaving on good terms and leaving under a cloud.  You can avoid potentially awkward situations by following these steps:

  • put your resignation in writing
  • include all the essential details in your letter, including your signature and your manager’s name
  • give your reasons – but be constructive and professional in the way you express this
  • thank your employer for the opportunity
  • answer potential questions the employer might have

Once you have written your letter, you should hand this either to your HR department or directly to your manager.  You should follow delicate etiquette while resigning.  Although you may be leaving because there is a better opportunity elsewhere or that you are unhappy, you still might need a reference from this employer in the future.

When you hand in your notice, you should probably already have mentioned this in a meeting or conversation.  It should not be a surprise.  When you broach the topic, you should be gracious and say how you have enjoyed working for the company. This applies even if you haven’t.  They have allowed you to earn money and develop to a degree, so acknowledge this and leave bitterness to the side.  You should also be cooperative, making sure you help with the handover to the new employee.

Above all – you need to make sure you do not burn your bridges as you may need to work for them again in the future.

Finally, the exit interview

Before your notice period is over, you may be asked to take part in an exit interview.  You might find this interview awkward and unnecessary.  However, it is essential to attend this exit interview for your successful closure with the company. Also, your comments will benefit people who continue to work there.

The first thing to remember to do is relax.  There is nothing significant at stake – even though it is called an interview.  They are just taking an opportunity to learn from you and your experience with the company.  Therefore, you have only got goodwill to earn from attending.  You may want to make a list of all your work tasks that you will be handing over. Plus, it would be helpful to include any concerns or issues your managers could address.  If you are going to offer negatives, try proceeding these with positives.

Leaving your job

stressed man writing a resignation letter on his laptop

Understanding your notice period can be tricky, as it involves many stipulations. However, being aware of your notice period before you plan on moving on and going through the right practices throughout it will make your transition smoother and easier for all involved.



Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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