What are the consequences of shortened notice of resignation?
March 18, 2011 8:06 AM   Subscribe

What are the legal consequences of not giving 4 weeks notice, which is part of my employment contract in Ontario, Canada?

I am hoping to be offered a new position next week. My current employment contract includes, in part, the clause:

The employement of the employee may be terminated at any time:
4. By the employee giving to [Employer] 4 weeks' notice of resignation

(Several other standard termination-related clauses not related to resignation removed.)

I've informed my potential new employer that I'd like to give 4 weeks notice, and there's a variety of ethical and not-being-a-jerk reasons I want to do so, but the new position is moderately time sensitive and if they say "we want you in two weeks" I'm not going to refuse.

In that scenario, what are the consequences of me providing fewer than 4 weeks of notice?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total)
I don't know about the legalities (spoiler: no lawyers in Ontario will answer this question) but I would be reluctant to hire someone who had a history of treating their contractual obligations lightly.
posted by atrazine at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2011

Unless you have a bonus and/or financial penalty clause in your contract, there's no legal ramification to walking out the door at the end of today and never coming back.

Two-weeks notice clauses are there for the benefit of the employer, to pressure you into giving them time to fill your position and have them trained, but they're not a legal requirement.
posted by dflemingecon at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2011

It depends on the terms of your contract. Usually remedies are spelled out, but even if they are, they can be challenged in court.

If there's nothing that says what action can be taken, then there's really little they can do.

Disclaimer, IANAL. IANCanadian.
posted by inturnaround at 8:25 AM on March 18, 2011

You have any unused vacation? You might be risking that.

In any case, you should not do this. Leaving on short notice - without the agreement of your current employer - is extremely unprofessional. You will be creating a bad reference for yourself: "Yeah anonymous did a good job, but she left on short notice and really left me in a bind."

A reference like that is worse than not having any reference at all.

Negotiate this with your current employer when you hand in notice. You might find them quite accommodating.

I do not see how your new employer would look badly on you for saying "I would like to start right away, but I have a contractual obligation to give four weeks notice."
posted by three blind mice at 8:30 AM on March 18, 2011

dflemingecon, I would not be so sure about that. This person signed a contract requiring 4 weeks notice, and unless there is some legal principle that nullifies that, he could be sued for damages. Usually this is not pursued, but it could be.

I would do all I could to meet my contractual obligations just on principle, up to and including working both jobs for a short while if allowed. Some co's will let you count accrued vacation days as part of your notice.
posted by d4nj450n at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2011

Seconding talking to your boss about this, I've found that if you come in and ask if they can work with you to leave earlier (work weekends / evenings to finish projects if you're in a project focussed job) then virtually all people will be accommodating.
posted by atrazine at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2011

Are there any laws on the books in Ontario specifying what can be required for notice? If the law says that an employer can not require more than X weeks, it may not matter what the contract says as it (or that provision) could be unenforceable. I'm American, so outside of union issues we are usually at-will employees that can quit at any time for any reason. The standard two weeks notice is mostly just a courtesy here. But I generally consider our friends to the north to be more progressive on a lot of these issues, so you may want to investigate it.

Worst case, explain to your boss that you have a great opportunity and are giving as much notice as you can, whether it be 1 week or 4. If they don't like, frack 'em. I'd take the risk if you really want the job, as I believe the potential bad outcomes for you are relatively minor, if they exist at all. Really, the 4 week thing is sort of silly. With one foot out the door, your heart will not be in your work those 4 weeks, no matter how hard you try to stay focused. It's human nature.
posted by COD at 8:52 AM on March 18, 2011

This workplace lawyer has some suggestions on how to deal with this in your particular jurisdiction, including helpful language to use in your resignation letter.
posted by dflemingecon at 8:59 AM on March 18, 2011

What does the contract say? If it imposes a penalty, and the penalty isn't crazy*, you can probablyexpect to pay it. If it doesn't, your employer could have a difficult time coming after you.

Don't just look in that paragraph. A lot of times remedies for breaches are all put together in their own section, usually towards the end.

I'd also look for non-compete clauses in your contract. Courts don't like them--at least they don't in the US--but they can be crafted in such a way as to be enforceable.

It's probably worth consulting an Ontario employment lawyer.

I'm neither your lawyer nor licensed in Canada.
posted by valkyryn at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2011

FWIW, I started a "well, we want you soon" job after my 4 weeks notice period and they were fine. I was happy to finish things out at the first job, and the second one, though not ecstatic, managed without me. The first job was, however, surprised that I was willing to give all 4 weeks, and I could likely have gotten away with 2 weeks, and certainly 3. (This is Quebec, not Ontario.)

If new job tells you they want you sooner, discuss it with your old job, you can probably work things out, but the new job won't unhire you for following your contractual notice period.
posted by jeather at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2011

Sounds pretty unenforcable to me. It might burn a reference, but in my opinion that would be the worst thing that would happen. Unless they're jerks.
posted by dobie at 9:13 AM on March 18, 2011

There's nothing legal there - it's in there as courtesy. I'd try to negotiate with both for three weeks, and be available to your former employer by phone if necessary for the fourth week. Tell the new employer "I won't do it you when I leave here some day, and I won't do it to them, either."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:16 AM on March 18, 2011

Go see an employment lawyer. Bring your contract. It won't take much time or money to get an answer to your question.
posted by smorange at 9:46 AM on March 18, 2011

What the fuck, people? "There's nothing legal there"? Contracts are, in my experience, generally enforceable according to their terms. There are some (rare) exceptions, and as a practical matter it's anyone's guess whether your current employer would find it worthwhile to take action against you if you bailed w/o the notice required under the contract. So in that sense, the contract might not be enforced. That doesn't mean it's not enforceable, or that your current employer couldn't make trouble for you.

Like valkyryn said above, you should read your entire employment contact. There may be specific remedies laid out if you breach this particular clause. You could also just ask to be released in less than four weeks. But only a lawyer in your jurisdiction is going to be able to answer your question about "legal consequences."
posted by lex mercatoria at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2011

I took an entry Business Law class (IANAL or looking to become one - the class mostly focused on employment law) this past semester, and it really comes down to how long you have been working at your place of employment to determine how much time you "should" be giving. It should also be noted I took class in BC, so the same sort of "courtesy notice" may not apply in Ontario.

If I remember correctly, it is 2 weeks courtesy notice per year that you've worked there - for a maximum of 6 weeks. As others have mentioned, if it's in the contract that you signed, it could be a breach of contract and your employer *could* come after you for that. It's best to just discuss this with your employer about your reasons for wanting to leave early, you might be able to make a deal with them and leave on better terms.

You may want to check out the Employment Standards Act of Ontario and also the FAQ page for more information about your rights and your employer's rights at the workplace.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2011

If I remember correctly, it is 2 weeks courtesy notice per year that you've worked there - for a maximum of 6 weeks.

I'm sorry, but this is just not correct, even for BC. There are common law and statutory requirements for notice given by employers to employees, but without getting into specifics I'll say that generally the reverse is not true. This, by the way, is why you need a lawyer to answer your question. Even people who have taken classes on this are not reliable sources of information.
posted by smorange at 4:44 PM on March 18, 2011

As for the courtesy notice, (so sorry, my "there's nothing legal here" was foolish, as I was thinking in terms of what people would likely go so far as to take you to court over.) Anyway, what I came back to say was that the courtesy notice will have everything to do with what field you are working in and, yes, how long you have been there. Just talk to your current employer and talk to your future employer and work something out. Three weeks. Go for three weeks.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2011

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