how to say “I can start immediately” when I’m still employed

A reader writes:

I’m currently on leave from a job that was causing me such extraordinary stress I was having panic attacks at work. I’ve been applying and interviewing for other jobs pretty extensively while I’m out, including one I’m sincerely hoping will turn into a better career path in general for me.

Now my challenge: I have not been telling the organizations I’ve been interviewing with that I am out for stress-related medical reasons from the job which, technically, still employs me. I’ve just been saying things like “it’s a work-from-home day” to explain the flexibility in my schedule. When the interviewer will ask me when I can start, I’ve been replying “two weeks from the offer.”

But, technically, I could start right away. I would give two weeks notice to my employer, but because I’m on leave, they were not expecting me to work during those two weeks anyway. So no party would be wronged here, except I suppose the hiring organization which thought I was still working.

Is there a better way I could be handling that?

Eh, I’d stick with saying you can start two weeks after accepting an offer. Most employers who are interviewing you are assuming that your start date would need to be at least two weeks away. Many times, an employer won’t even be ready for you to start earlier than that. Two weeks is not likely to be in any way a deal-breaker or even a drawback.

That said, if a particular employer is giving you the sense that they’d really like it if you could start earlier, you could say, “I need to give my current employer two weeks notice, but I could probably work something out with them if you needed me start earlier than that.”

Don’t go beyond that, though, because that can be a red flag (are you not giving your current employer the professional courtesy of appropriate notice, or are they pushing you out, or something else potentially concerning).

But really, most employers are expecting you’ll need to give notice and are fine with that.

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. Blue Dog*

    I think it would be fair to say, “I want to give my employer two weeks’ notice. However, I can tell you that based on my employer’s history, many times when an employee gives notice the employer asks them to leave immediately. If that happens to me — and I expect it might — I would be available sooner. But I do feel that I owe them the courtesy of proper notice, even though they might not take it.”

    1. Zillah*

      But that’s very wordy and may not even be the case. It’s one thing to not overelaborate when it comes to your personal health – I don’t think the OP is at all obligated to divulge a health issue. However, I really can’t see any positives to presenting the situation as you’re suggesting. “I may be able to work something out” is more concise and professional. There’s no reason to overshare.

    2. Gaara*

      Except that isn’t true, as far as we know. I like the “I think I could work it out with them” formulation a lot more, since it’s more truthful and it gets the same message across.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m not sure I would even say that. They might get suspicious she’s not really still employed there.

        1. Zillah*

          That seems like a bit of a stretch. I guess it’s possible that someone might get suspicious, but there are many more likely scenarios behind “I may be able to work something out” than “I no longer work there and am lying about it.”

  2. Erin*

    So wait, you’d quit immediately, if I’m reading this right, with the hopes of starting immediately?

    If you really want to quit without giving notice and you’ve thought that through, then if you can, definitely take those two weeks for recuperation time.

      1. CeeCee*

        I didn’t take it as she mean she would quit immediate, but rather that she’s already on leave with the other job, so even with a 2 weeks’ notice, she wouldn’t be working those 2 weeks anyway and could start work right away with the new company. …. Even though it would still be during the notice period with the first company.

        That was a bit rambly, but I hope it made sense.

        1. Gaara*

          If she’s on paid leave, I wonder if that would raise any problems if she kept getting paid at her old job while also getting paid at her new job.

          1. Bookworm*

            Right, that’s what I was wondering. That seems like an ethical issue that the new employer would frown upon if they found out.

          2. Temperance*

            If she’s on disability leave, it’s because she can’t work, so accepting a new job and working that would pretty much invalidate the disability, IMO.

            1. JessaB*

              Depends on what you’re on leave for. It is possible if you have two jobs that you’re completely unable to do one, but can do some or all of the other. I mean someone who is an admin at one job who sits and types and answers phones can go to work with their leg in a cast. If their second job is truck driving however, they cannot do that.

              1. Temperance*

                True, but she’s on leave for “stress”, which I’m guessing means anxiety. So if she mentally can’t do one job, she can’t do another.

          3. AnotherHRPro*

            Generally you can not start doing work somewhere else while still being on a medical leave of absence.

          4. J-nonymous*

            I wondered this too, especially since it’s medical leave. I had an employee once on medical leave who we found out was accepting other employment while collecting pay from the company I worked for. It caused a lot of lost trust. I’m pretty sure that employee was not eligible for re-hire and I heard talk (though final decision was above my pay grade) about going after the employee to pay back the disability time my company had paid.

            I guess what I’m saying is, I thought when employees are on medical leave that means they cannot work, and so working (even leaving to go to another job) is a Big Deal.

          5. Agile Phalanges*

            Yeah, that seems worrisome to me, too. I did basically what the OP is proposing when I left my last job. But that was a layoff with six months notice, the company’s blessing to job search, and my manager’s permission to quit with “no notice” if it came to that. What actually ended up happening was I told my prospective employer about the situation honestly, and since they were in the position of needing/wanting to hire immediately due to having lost my predecessor suddenly, I did actually start with them very quickly, then alternated employers for a couple of days. It ate into the PTO I would have otherwise received a payout for at the old employer, and of course made it a bit harder to train at my new employer than if I’d had a clean cutover, but it was a win-win-win. I was able to wrap up my old job, start training on my new job before the person training me left on vacation, and still got most of my PTO payout. AND my stay bonus for making it to the bitter end, even though I’d technically started my new job just prior. (HR knew and blessed this as well.) So it CAN be done. But medical leave is a whole other ball of wax, I would think, and this was with the full knowledge of all parties as to exactly the situation.

        2. Persephone Mulberry*

          I took it to mean that she would give two weeks’ notice but the company would likely term her immediately due to the fact that she’s on leave and there’s no work to transition.

        3. Amber*

          Yeah unless I’m missing something, if she’s on PTO and put in her 2 weeks notice, most companies would cancel the vacation and need her to work (document info, pass off her work to someone, tie up lose ends, etc.)

    1. Not the Droid you Are Looking For*

      My thoughts were along this line of thinking as well.

      If the OP is on leave from a stressful job, but still working to find a new job, it may be incredibly helpful to have some breathing room between positions to help her get recentered.

      Also, even though they would not expect her to work during leave there will likely be some wrap-up things that she will have to do with her old company during that time (returning equipment, exit interview, paperwork).

  3. Temperance*

    Absolutely do not say that you can start “immediately”. You don’t need to burn a bridge with your former company, even if you’re on FMLA for mental health issues and not actually working at the moment.

    Two weeks is standard. Stick wtih that.

  4. AnxiouslyAnon*

    Are…. are you me, OP?

    I just gave notice because I gave up trying to fight my anxiety at my job. I’d rather have the flexibility to go to any interview on the fly and more willpower to apply to a bunch of jobs, than having it sucked away but just trying to survive the workday. And now I’m in an interesting place where I could use the exact advice you’re asking. So it’s great to have it.

    Good luck with interviewing, OP!

  5. Lisa*

    Is it OK to interview on a “work from home” day? I for one would never say that! Working from home doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want that day.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m sure some work-from-homers are allowed to set their own schedule, as long as they work a certain number of hours.

    2. Temperance*

      Oh good catch – I would absolutely not say this. It just gives credence to the idea that if OP gets to work from home at this job, she might take advantage of the flexibility to look for other jobs.

      I would probably say that I have a flexible schedule. I honestly don’t ever get asked this question while interviewing, which is a blessing, probably.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah I think it’s highly unlikely they’d ask ” so how were you able to come interview on a work day?” Theyll just assume it’s what everyone else does- get off early, go in late, PTO day, etc.

    3. Tuckerman*

      Yah, that made me uncomfortable.
      There’s no reason to lie. People interview mid-week all the time. Also, if they call OP’s references and mention working from home, if OP doesn’t actually work from home it will look bad.

      1. BRR*

        It made uncomfortable too. Even if a candidate has complete control over their schedule it comes off poorly. Plus you don’t know what the company is like, if they are anti-WFH it’s a ding.

        And that it’s a lie is a good point as well. It would look wrong if I found out a candidate said they work from home and they didn’t.

        When asked about availability to interview, I would just say you have flexibility to take off when you need to.

    4. AnotherHRPro*

      General rule, never tell a full on untruth. The OP can simply say they have a fairly flexible schedule.

    5. baseballfan*

      I was just coming in to say that it sounds like this person is giving way too much explanation of why they are available to interview. People interview all the time during the workday because that’s when interviewers are available and working. No need to get into explaining why you’re not at work. The assumption will be that you’ve made arrangements by whatever means necessary.

      And yes, for goodness’ sake don’t say you’re working from home that day. That would red flag a candidate immediately to me as someone who can’t be trusted to actually work on such a day.

  6. Not Karen*

    to explain the flexibility in my schedule

    …Since when does this need explaining? I’ve been never asked about this. If you don’t have enough flexibility in your job to interview, how would you ever get another one…?

    1. Rob Lowe can't read*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about explaining this. I work in a job that with very limited flexibility (I’m a teacher), and nobody has ever asked me to explain how I’m able to interview during the school day. It’s called PTO, and it doesn’t require an explanation. (Or if it does, I don’t know if I want to work for that prospective employer…)

  7. We need you to start "immediately"*

    OP, you don’t mention this as a concern; but, I’ll add it anyway as it is something else to think about . . .

    If an employer will not hire you if you cannot start “immediately” I would see that as a red flag. It is standard, in the US anyway, that most employers would expect you to give 2 weeks notice. If an employer expects you to not give notice to your current job – that tells you a lot about them. Such as, they would have no problem with you screwing over someone else because they would do the same to others; including you.

    Also, those who “need someone RIGHT !” are those who do not plan ahead. Not a healthy work environment.

    1. Onomatopoeia*

      It’s interesting that you mention that, I’ve seen a couple of job postings in the past couple of weeks with “must be available to start immediately” in the requirements. I found it strange and wasn’t sure if by ” immediately” do they mean after the 2 weeks notice I’d give my current employer? Or are they only looking for currently unemployed candidates?…But then how well would they be able to hire someone on such a tight schedule? That has always confused me.

    2. Snazzy Hat*

      Unless it involves temping. S.O.’s timeline for current job went thus:
      Monday: Learned about upcoming open interview.
      Tuesday: Prepared for interview.
      Wednesday: Had interview, learned it was with an agency.
      Thursday: Received call from agent saying they found something right up s.o.’s alley, and asking if he could start Friday.
      Friday: First day of job.

      But I completely agree a direct hire situation should not demand that you burn bridges to make their lives easier.

  8. KAZ2Y5*

    Tell them 2 weeks. My boss at a former job would drop people if they said they could start immediately (unless they were out of work, or had another really good reason). He said he didn’t want people to do that to him, so he didn’t want anyone who would do it to their current employer.

    1. Mike C.*

      This is flawed thinking on the part of your boss. People leave with differing amounts of notice based in large part in how they’re treated by the employer. If your boss wants to ensure that people give notice, then he needs to ensure that there is a healthy working environment where those who give notice aren’t simply perp walked out by security.

      1. Bookworm*

        I that depends if KAZ2Y5’s boss is dismissing these people outright (which might lose him some good candidates) or if he’s using it as a prompt to dig further into their reasoning, and subsequently dropping them.

      2. KAZ2Y5*

        I found out his thoughts on this when I wanted to hire a certain technician and she said that she could start immediately. My boss asked why and she said that she was actually working for a friend and the friend knew she was job hunting (this particular job was not in our field, just something for her to bring some money in while in between jobs). My boss was happy with this explanation and later told me his thoughts on leaving a job immediately. He didn’t want it to happen to him, so he wasn’t going to pick someone who was willing to do that to others.

      3. Temperance*

        You also don’t know what a random person will consider a “healthy” working environment. I once worked with a temp receptionist who didn’t like that our workplace had strict timelines for lunch breaks, and that she had to call one of us to relieve her if she wanted to use the restroom. She no showed, and we reported her to the agency.

  9. Dan*


    I read your letter a couple of times, and I think you’re trying to “manage” too much here. Why are you “explaining” flexibility in your schedule? Unless a particular company is making you come in for multiple interviews in a short period of time, why would they even realize you are “flexible”? Why would they even care?

    Second, why are you trying so hard to “start right away”? “Two weeks from the offer” is very standard, very acceptable, very normal… unless someone is looking for someone to “start right away” then they aren’t even expecting you to come in that soon anyway. (Need to do the paperwork, need to get you a computer, need to do a few things to prepare for *your* arrival.)

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, if I had someone start less than two weeks after the offer, they probably wouldn’t have a computer.

    2. Bookworm*

      I agree; employers expect that you’ve worked something out, you don’t need to “explain” your schedule. (I assume you’re proactively offering this info, rather than them asking. It would be an odd question on their part.)

      Second, is your current employer paying you while you’re on leave? I think it would be unethical to accept payment for leave while you’re at your new job (if that’s indeed what you’re thinking, it might not be), and certainly would look bad to your new employer if they realized.

      But also – if you are being paid out for that two week notice period? Use it for recuperation time. I think you’re imagining that starting at a new place will be like a breath of fresh air – and it will be – but you might find that a lot of the emotion and anxiety you have to push down in order to deal with your current position will come bubbling up.

      Recovery time is not to be underestimated. If you can swing it, take it.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree, but this letter set off all sorts of red flags for me. I think this hits in on the head — there is a lot of over-explaining and over-management of responses.

      First, never tell a potential employer that you’re interviewing with them on a work-at-home day. Everyone has to coordinate time off to interview, and you wouldn’t have to explain that at all.

      Second, telling them you can start in two weeks is the best bet. Give your two weeks’ notice, and show up when the employer is ready for you. I’m another who wouldn’t have background/reference/office setup done in less than two weeks. It’s not a terribly long time, and a lot of my start dates are further out than two weeks.

      Third, some of the things that have been over-explained aren’t true. This is where the over-explaining about “work from home days” also bites a second time — calling it that makes it look like you are lying to cover up the medical leave. I agree with whomever upthread said to tell no untruths, especially since there is no reason to do so here.

      Finally, and I admittedly work in an insanely stressful industry with long hours, lots of task juggling, and demanding people, but I would be concerned about hiring someone taking leave for work-related stress not being able to handle my position. I also suffer from pretty bad anxiety, and I have had to come up with coping strategies to continue to be able to function in this type of environment. It’s not easy, but I have to do it to keep my job.

  10. Stranger than fiction*

    I think this is a classic case of overthinking it, which is easy to do when job searching. Compound that with being off work for stress, I don’t know how the Op is doing it.

  11. Liz T*

    I’m semi-employed (temping, tutoring), and an application form for a very good organization asked if I could start immediately, in one week, or in two weeks. (It only gave those options.) I could’ve started right away but I put “one week” lest the real answer be seen as a red flag to the employer. (Plus heck, I could use that week to get the super in, go to the dentist, update my work wardrobe, etc.)

    A friend of mine who applied and checked “immediately” was rejected the next day. I was not.

    (I was eventually rejected but now they’re considering me, sloooowly, for another position.)

  12. cncx*

    i had a job where i was also on leave due to panic attacks. i made the mistake of accepting a shortened notice and not realizing that it is a red flag if an employer wants you to bypass normal professional courtesy of a regular notice. Like, a normal company is going to have their life in order enough to understand that two weeks is how things normally go, you know? i also think, although i understand depending on income this isn’t always possible, that in retrospect i should have taken the two weeks to get my head in the proper place for a new job.

  13. kalli*

    I would honestly err on less info is better. I was out on medical leave and was rejected because I said I would have to get cleared by my doctor to know a start date – it was a rather weirdly worded question along the lines of ‘what barriers would prevent you coming here?’ and eventually I was promised the job by one person then someone else was hired ‘because their needs had changed’ and the someone else could start immediately. given how small my field was it wasn’t practical for me to lie about my condition as everyone knew, unfortunately, so if you have the chance to get around that, then do. (I totally told the recruiter they set the employer up for a discrimination suit through how the situation was handled, but i don’t know if their system improved).

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