What should I do if I need to quit before the end of my notice period?
May 7, 2012 2:53 PM   Subscribe

UK employment law/HR filter: quitting a job before the end of a notice period

Things have gone to hell at my current workplace (to sum it up: boss is slowly making plans to close shop and bungling up his client relations so badly that I wouldn't be surprised if we went out of business sooner rather than later); I have a new job in the pipeline.
My contract with my current employer states I must give four weeks notice, however a trusted colleague told me that the boss has "made life hell" for previous employees that have quit to work for rival businesses.
Now, things are already nearly unbearable and I know I am not going to be able to last the whole notice period if it gets worse. My question is, can I be sued if I walk out? What should I be doing now to protect myself? The business cannot function normally if I leave before I am replaced. It pains me to write this, but if it means I forfeit pay then fine. I'll live. But I don't want to go to court. Discussing this with my employer is not an option. I am not in a union. Help please?
posted by wigsnatcher to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Yes, you can be. Contractual notice periods are enforcable in the UK and your employer can sue you for any financial loss they incur due to your absence during the notice period. If you say your employer can't operate without you, that could mean upwards of the entirety of their expected revenue for the time your are gone. A useful reference is here:
Damages are only awarded for financial loss. For example, if you don't give enough notice your employer could claim for damages from the extra cost of hiring temporary staff to do your work, or for lost revenue. You would still have the right to wages you earned before you left, plus pay for untaken statutory holiday.
posted by saeculorum at 2:58 PM on May 7, 2012

It sounds like you are on the hook, so I'd put in your notice right away and just bite the bullet. That said, if your boss does in fact "make life hell", work to rule. If he wants you to stay late off the clock to wring more work out of you for example, leave at the end of the day. If they get verbally abusive, just stop communicating altogether until they calm down. What's he going to do, fire you? It sounds like he/she needs you more than the other way around and if they act up badly enough you might have grounds for some sort of employment action (not sure of what it is in the UK, but in Canada if an employer acts badly enough they can get hauled in and nailed to the wall for a hostile work environment).

So go in, give your notice and uphold your end of the contract. Don't walk out, keep calm, but don't put up with any crap. If not putting up with crap prompts him to fire you, then that's one way out.
posted by barc0001 at 3:20 PM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: I guess I should add; I know there are cases in which employees can be fired without notice, such as for insubordination, theft, rudeness towards clients etc. and I was hoping there would be some way I could legally leave without notice if the boss were abusive or otherwise made it impossible for me to do my job. Would I have to counter sue for constructive dismissal or something? I guess I just hope there is a way out for employees in extreme circumstances, short of intentionally getting fired.
posted by wigsnatcher at 3:30 PM on May 7, 2012

If he makes it impossible to do your job, then let him. Don't talk back, don't tell him he's making it impossible, don't snap, don't tell him, "Well, then just FIRE me!" Just sit there and do what he tells you to do (obviously, within the realm of legality) and smile because you're leaving in four weeks.

If he gets verbally abusive, sit there and smile back at him and remember that you're leaving in four weeks. They're just words. He's not worth your time or effort to accrue evidence for what will boil down to a wigsnatcher-said/boss-said lawsuit.

Obviously, though, if he does something monumentally stupid like threatening you physically, then remove yourself from the situation and call a cop and/or lawyer.

But mostly, just remember that he can only make your life hell if you let him. Smile. You're leaving in four weeks.
posted by Etrigan at 4:08 PM on May 7, 2012

Sigh, did a bit of (UK) employment law at university:

Yes, you are contractually obliged to give x weeks notice.

Yes, you can be sued for being in breach of that contract.

However, you've got no money (or, should I say, you're not paid enough to actually make it worthwhile the employer going to court over it).

Unless you're a big city stockbroker or major sports star (or other profession earning bajillions), you're fine. If you want to burn your bridges and not come back - just leave.
posted by BigCalm at 4:23 PM on May 7, 2012

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