can my employer make me give four weeks notice when I quit?

A reader writes:

When I started at my current job (an entry-level administrative job, no state secrets here), my offer letter stated that I would have to give minimum four weeks notice when I left or I could open myself up to legal action from the company. I also live in an at-will employment state (New York, if it helps), so technically I could also be dismissed at any time without notice or reason.

Whenever I tell people about this, typically the reaction from friends, mentors or networking contacts is “that doesn’t make sense, they can’t do that/legally enforce that.” I had one mentor suggest that since my job is so low-level and I make a comparatively low salary, even if I did break this rule, my company likely wouldn’t pursue legal action because it would be too great of an expense. I can see that logic, but my company is also very large and wealthy, and they have good lawyers in the legal department. I wouldn’t want to go up against them if it came to that; plus, I would like a good reference from them in the future.

My main reason for writing in is because I’m in the final stages of interviewing for a new job that I’m excited about, and if all goes well I’ll be receiving an offer soon. I’m worried that they’ll balk if they hear that I need to give four weeks’ notice, or that they’ll ask me to start sooner.

Can my employer legally enforce the four-week notice period, and if so, how can I explain that to my new employer?

Some final notes: I would prefer to leave my current employer on a positive note, but I do really want this new job. I also think my current employer would like me to train my replacement if possible, which I understand, however with this being a low-level administrative position I also don’t think it would be a major hindrance if I wasn’t able to do so.

It’s highly unlikely that that’s enforceable.

For it to be legally enforceable, you’d need a signed, written employment contract where both sides agreed to specific terms around separation — which would include your employer making guarantees as well, such as agreeing not to terminate your employment without similar notice to you, or pay in lieu of notice. You almost certainly don’t have that kind of contract, because most U.S. workers don’t (and entry-level admins almost never do).

They could also put in your offer letter that you can’t leave until you’ve supplied them with three drops of your own blood, or the feather of a rare bird. It doesn’t mean you have to do it. An offer letter is just an offer letter; they can change the terms of what’s on offer at any time (such as by cutting your pay, as long that’s not retroactive, or by changing your benefits) and so can you (by declining to continue offering your labor — i.e., leaving).

That’s what at-will employment means: either of you can end the relationship at any time. In fact, look at your offer letter again and there’s probably some language in there about your job being at-will. But even if there’s not, if you don’t have the kind of contract I described above, then you’re at-will, like most American workers.

That said, legal considerations aside, it’s possible there could be other ramifications. Take a look in your employee handbook and other written policies. Some employers have rules that if you don’t give X amount of notice, your unused vacation time won’t be paid out when you leave (if you’re in a state where it’s not legally required). You also might be ineligible for rehire if you don’t give the amount of notice they want. But they can’t stop you from leaving earlier, or sue you if you do.

Of course, you might burn a bridge by giving less notice than they want. But even that is fairly unlikely as long as you handle it well.

When you resign, just give a standard two-week notice. Don’t say anything like “I know you wanted four weeks.” Just give two as if of course that’s a normal and reasonable thing to do, because it is. If they mention that they wanted more, you can say, “Unfortunately the other job was firm on the start date and two weeks was the most I could negotiate.” (Note: it doesn’t matter if this is true or not. In fact, if you can negotiate a start date further out, I’d encourage you to take a week off in between jobs to recharge, not to use the additional time working for your old employer.) This almost certainly happens to them all the time, and they’re well aware that two weeks is the professional standard, and it’s very likely not to be a big deal.

You could also discreetly ask around about how others have handled this. If you have coworkers you trust who have been there a while, ask if everyone really gives four weeks notice or if two is common. You’ll probably hear two is common (and they might even be confused about why you’re asking, because a lot of people don’t even remember what was in their offer letters).

{ 198 comments… read them below }

  1. Timothy*

    I echo what Alison said about taking a week off between jobs. That gives you a little time to unwind, do a mental dump from the old job, and get ready to jump into the new job. You may even find a few things you need to run around for during that week.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’ll echo it to.

      Circumstances forced me to skip that week on my last transition and it was sorely missed. If you have any opportunity at all realistic to take it, the week between jobs is very valuable.

      1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

        The last time I changed jobs I only took two days between (four day weekend), because I chose to delay my end date at my old job to hit a vesting date but couldn’t push my start date out any further than I already did. I figured I could take a longer break when I left the new job, but I’ve been here 9 years and counting (50% longer than my previous longest stint). If and when I do leave this job I’m going to leave without anything lined up and take at least six months!

    2. sofar*

      I agree. I’m about to start a new job, and couldn’t get more than a long weekend off to recharge (new job has a really important event I ideally need to be onboarded for — I knew that when I applied — and old job wants every last second of my 2-weeks notice).

      It’s going to be rough, but not as rough as staying at the old job, so I’m going to make it work but aughhhhh.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      I did that only once and it was the single most stressful week of my life! I can’t stand not working and the anxiety that the new company would pull the offer and I would be jobless was too much to bear

    4. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      I second this. For my last job change, I wanted to take 2 weeks for myself but was pressured into taking only 1. Then I got pre-boarding tasks to do every day of my “week off,” including some actual training for the client. (It was paid, but I wasn’t told about it in advance; it just showed up on the Wednesday with a 2-day deadline.)

      This wasn’t the best way to get started on the right foot, as I never really got the chance to disengage. You might want to ask about pre-boarding and what to expect, then plan accordingly.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. You may start with very little sick leave or PTO so take that week to get to the dentist or whatever.

    6. Peach Parfaits Pls*

      Yes, as long as you’re not strapped for cash, always take the week! Re-center yourself, slough off your old-job habits and peeves, enjoy an all-too-rare breather to meander, clean, read, go to a museum, whatever. It seems like a small thing but it’s so valuable, and asking if three-weeks-from-offer-date is OK is very common.

      1. Peach Parfaits Pls*

        (Starting a new job with just a weekend – or worse, the very next day! – both of which I have had to do at times, is like getting severe jet lag.)

  2. Alan*

    That feels like something that someone just stuck in there because they thought they could.

    1. MyStars*

      I worked for an organization that had licensed professionals that carried a caseload, who truly needed 3 or 4 weeks to appropriately wrap up their involvement. same organization also had admin and kitchen employees who were done with their work at the end of the day every day. same employment handbook applied to both — sort of. Nobody enforced four weeks notice requirements on a receptionist the way they did on a counselor.

      1. Annie*

        That’s what I was thinking, just a general offer letter that had the same requirements spelled out for everyone, even when it doesn’t apply to an entry-level admin.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        If they want to enforce a notice period on anybody they can damn well sign a contract of employment. If they want the advantages of “at will” they get the disadvantages of “at will”.

    2. OMG, Bees!*

      Knowing some companies, yeah, could be just they thought it was a good idea to have broad company demands or legal threats without consulting legal

    3. Nina*

      In my country (much stronger worker protections than the US) four weeks is completely standard. It would be really unusual to have a contract say you could give less than four weeks’ notice. On the other hand, employers can’t give less than four weeks’ notice either, and are usually required to give more.

  3. Jackie Daytona, Regular Human Bartender*

    “… my offer letter stated that I would have to give minimum four weeks notice when I left or I could open myself up to legal action from the company.”

    Legal action for… what? I’m assuming they didn’t specify because there’s nothing *to* specify.

    It was not cool for this employer to put threatening language like that in an offer letter. You’ll do well to be done with them with the customary and professional two weeks notice. And that’s a courtesy, not a legal thing.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I think a lot of people have had ‘put it in writing’ or ‘get it in writing’ drilled into them for so long that they think that as long as something is in a written format – say, an offer letter – it’s binding.

      This is not the case.

    2. 90day Notice*

      To answer the question regarding enforcement: I’m not LW but my signed contract (also signed by a C-suite member of my employer) says we mutually need to give 90-day notice unless the employer declares bankruptcy or its termination for cause, and if I fail to give 90 days then I need to financially compensate my employer for the pro-rated amount of my salary that I’m short by as the (theoretical) replacement cost for someone else to sub in for me. It’s so standard in my industry that my colleague failed to negotiate it down to 60 day notice.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          It could be the US in some industries. A developer I know got a job doing fin tech (financial technology, think high speed trading handled by computers optimized to buy low, sell high as fast as inhumanly possible) for a brokerage firm in NYC, and had a similar contract. He was asking around our office to get advice, because like most of us he’d never had a real employment contract before.

          New York, like most states, won’t really enforce non-competes, so for high stakes internal software developers they created real contracts. There was a noncompete clause too, but with real quid pro quo, so it was legally enforceable. When they’re paying you half a million dollars a year to develop highly sensitive internal software to create a competitive advantage against their competitors, they don’t want you disappearing after a year with the project half done. Or worse taking another 200k from the shop down the street to do the same thing for them. Sadly he could not bring me with him, I could have gone for half a million a year. (Actually the job sounded stressful as hell, probably not worth the money)

        2. 90day Notice*

          It’s the US, and as far as I’m aware it’s not limited to a specific state or region. I don’t know how it works outside the US, to be honest. Someone else mentioned their friend in fintech having similar contracts- I’m neither in finance nor in tech, so now I guess we know there’s at least 3 industries in the US where this is standard. And yes, it’s mutual- if they can terminate me without cause with less notice but per the contract they’d still need to pay me for the full 90 days (but realistically they’re not going to pay us and not have us work).

          1. amoeba*

            It’s very, very common in Europe! Varying lengths, so in any job I’ve had in Germany and Switzerland, it was 3 months, in other countries/fields, one month might be more common. In higher level positions, it can go up to six months or even a year!

            Also, typically you have to quit on a specific date, usually the end of the month. I mean, you can of course send your resignation on any date, but that’s when the 3 months start. So if I decided to quit today, I’d have to work until end of September.

            People do sometimes get paid without working during that period, generally when they’re joining a competitor in a highly confidential field – the assumption is that being three months out of the loop on the newest developments will help, I guess.

            1. amoeba*

              And yup, that’s a very different situation from what LW is describing! With a contract binding both sides, this is honestly fine and actually pretty reassuring as it also gives people to time to find something new if you get laid off. Also, it’s the same everywhere, so no problems if you’re searching for something new, companies are used to waiting.

      1. BubbleTea*

        That sounds like a legit contract where both parties are providing consideration, though. LW’s situation is different because the employer is offering nothing in return for the “requirement” that LW give four weeks’ notice.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Right but what you’re describing is the scenario AAM’s answer mentioned where it would be a real thing. OP’s scenario they just said OP has to give that much notice, and the employer doesn’t. They can’t make it uneven like that. It has to apply to both sides to be enforceable.

  4. IL JimP*

    I can’t imagine them caring enough to make a big deal out of it. I would guess it’s likely old boiler plate in their offer letter

    1. Peach Parfaits Pls*

      Yeah there’s so much that companies do just as a halfhearted attempt to confuse people into complying… the more conscientious/less experienced workers end up falling for it because they don’t know to just ignore it.

    2. Van Wilder*

      I had a job in healthcare but on the business side. They expected four weeks’ notice of everyone based on…? They thought they could ask for it?

      I tried to give four weeks’ notice but then they would have meant no vacation during the notice period, and I had a friend’s wedding abroad the following week. So I just awkwardly took back my notice. When I came back from vacation and gave two weeks’ notice, they were offended! Like, you know I gave you unofficial four weeks’ notice right? My director didn’t talk to me for my notice period and didn’t say goodbye (clearly they were dysfunctional in other ways).

  5. Antilles*

    Personally, I wouldn’t do the last part about asking around. It’s unlikely this happens, but that opens the possibility of people saying that they do in fact give four weeks which then puts OP back in the position of “what do I do when this is the standard”. Asking around also means that management might find out about it, which could lead to you getting pushed out immediately even if you haven’t yet given notice or gotten the offer.

    I’d much rather not even mention the four weeks to anyone, then just go forward acting as though two weeks is of course the norm, why would anyone think otherwise. Let them be the ones to bring up the four weeks AFTER it’s already a done-deal that you’re leaving in two weeks.

    1. Artemesia*

      Agreed. This is one of those things where you just act as if you are of course doing the correct thing and if there is any blowback you are shocked not defensive. You start noising it around and suddenly it is a big deal. Just proceed. Get that extra week from the new place if you can but give the normal 2 week notice to your boss.

    2. Hyaline*

      Plus I imagine that if they had gotten litigious with former employees those tales of Egbert from accounting who gave two weeks notice and was sued would already be well-known office lore.

    3. K in Boston*

      Stuff like this makes me realize how, erm, not-very-nice my last employer was.

      Which is to say that this goes toward how well you know your workplace. My last employer was pretty vindictive, and while they’d rarely bring anything to court*, they’d figure out other ways to make your working life difficult if you didn’t abide by their so-called contracts. Example: They wouldn’t take you to court for violating your non-compete, but they would have the company blacklist you (i.e. tell everyone who you might need to contact about it, not to answer any phone calls or queries either from you or about you). Because of this, if you know someone who has both A) been there a long time, and B) you trust not to use the information against you, I’d still consider it a good idea to ask. But hey, maybe you work for some place normal.

      *One thing they did bring all the way to the Supreme Court was a case that effectively reduced workers’ rights in the US. Hooray.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        … Did we work for the same crappy company, or are there a bunch of them that fit that description?

        1. K in Boston*

          I (very thankfully) haven’t worked for nearly enough crappy companies to know if many fit this description, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we were talking about the same place. I didn’t hate all of it, but boy were they not fans of worker rights.

  6. Czhorat*

    This seems especially weird to me in an entry-level admin job; given that the purpose of a notice period is to transition ones workload to other staff in a controlled way, low-level admin jobs should require minimal notice. “leave tomorrow and let everyone scramble for coverage” would create headaches, but in real-life practicality most well-functioning organizations shouldn’t need more than a week to figure out who will pick up various admin tasks until a full-time replacement is onboarded.

    It would be different if, say, you had a technical or even project-management role with a large number of major projects that have to be reassigned. Or if you were managing multiple client relationships that you had to hand off.

    In this case it doesn’t sound as if there’s rational cause for the push for 4 weeks. Do with that what you will; from my PoV, if I heard that someone bounced from a low-level admin role without giving exceptionally long notice I’d not really care.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      It is only weird if you don’t consider the cost-benefit analysis to the company. The cost is adding a sentence to their offer letter boilerplate. The benefit is that they might have a somewhat more convenient (for them) transition when an employee leaves.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Depends – most medical offices request a longer notice period so that they can transition patient care and do a termination, especially for practices such as therapy.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        They can request what they want but if they aren’t willing to put it in a mutually binding contract it’s worth nothing and nobody should fell compelled to honor it.

  7. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    But of course the company demands more from you than they are willing to give you. Companies do this as a power play. They know it makes it harder for you to leave because you think you have to give the 4 weeks.

    Be professional. Give 2 weeks. Ask about any necessary handover. Do what is needed to wrap things up, leave documentation, etc. Then go enjoy the new job.

    1. MassMatt*

      This. I am curious how this company reacts if a new hire says “sorry, I have to give old job four weeks notice”. My bet is they would not be happy.

      Similarly, if a company doesn’t GIVE references, then they don’t GET references.

  8. Database Developer Dude*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in there deliberately. I concur with Antilles, who discourages the OP from asking around. Many employers want to act like someone leaving is a betrayal, and demand an unreasonable notice time in order to prevent people from being able to leave.

  9. Zee*

    My last job asked for 4 weeks’ notice. Not in the offer letter, but it was in the employee handbook. But the only consequence was that my accrued vacation time wouldn’t be paid out if I gave less notice. Except that it also wasn’t going to be paid out anyway if I was employed for less than 12 months (which I was), AND I only got 5 days a year (of which I had accrued about 4 by the time I left) so it wasn’t a great loss either way.

    I handed in my 2 weeks’ notice. My then-boss said “we ask for 4 weeks.” I responded “2 weeks is standard and I’m not able to move my start date at my new position.” It was fine.

    If you *want* to give 4 weeks’ notice, it’s unlikely that your new employer is going to balk at that. It’s common enough that a reasonable employer won’t throw a fit.

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      I’ve seen job offers get pulled for requesting an excessive notice period before.

      If you’re a rockstar they’ll deal with it, but in the more regular situation where there are multiple good candidates, it’s been my observation that most companies prefer the person who can start sooner vs. later.

      1. Zee*

        Four weeks isn’t excessive, though.

        OP would have a better idea if they’ve been trying to rush through the interview process and have stated that they need someone ASAP. But it’s very unlikely to hurt them if they ask “What is your target start date? My current job requests 4 weeks’ notice and I’d like to give them that if possible.”

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Four weeks WAS excessive according to the employer I personally saw pull a job offer over it. That’s why I wrote the comment.

          Seeing how much pushback my comment got though, I’m starting to think that this is one of those things that varies a lot by industry. I stand by my statement that this is what I have seen in blue-collar work environments, but I will concede that it might not be the case in a more white-collar jobs.

          1. Zee*

            Right, but the point is that 4 weeks is not objectively excessive – that employer was being unreasonable.

            Any competent employer should be able to understand that refusing to wait an extra 2 weeks for your top choice employee doesn’t actually help them. Scenario: you pull the offer for Candidate #1 because you have a strong second-choice candidate. Candidate #2 takes a few days to think it over. Because they’re a good candidate, it turns out they have other offers at the same time and decide to go with another one. So now you have to move on to Candidate #3. #3 takes a few days to think it over and they accept. They give 2 weeks’ notice at their current job, and… start the exact same day that Candidate #1 would have started. Or they say no, you don’t have any other viable candidates, and you spend the next 3 months doing the hiring process all over again. Wait an extra 2 weeks for a candidate you know you like and who has accepted your offer, or gamble that you might be able get someone to start a few days earlier than that. That’s a bad gamble.

            You’re right, I’m sure it does vary by industry. And I’d expect it in roles like retail where there are lots of applicants, people come and go, you often need someone to cover shifts ASAP after someone quit without notice, and there’s not much difference between applicants in terms of quality or experience.

            1. Orv*

              I’ve negotiated a start date four weeks out before, but to be fair during that 4 weeks I also had to pack up and move 3,000 miles. It really depends on the employer and how desperately they need a body in that particular seat.

            2. Statler von Waldorf*

              Your hypothetical scenario was not how I observed this situation play out. Here’s how the non-hypothetical situation that I personally witnessed actually happened.

              Alice and Bob both applied. Both were good, neither was great, but Bob had a small edge. Bob was extended a job offer. Bob pushed back, stating that they needed 4 weeks. They didn’t pull Bob’s job offer, but they did stall while they quietly reached out to Alice in response. Alice told them they could start tomorrow. Alice was offered the job. Only after Alice’s acceptance did they pull Bob’s job offer.

              Now, after reading the comments, I do believe it varies a lot by industry. Also, as Sloanicota wisely pointed out below and I agree with, this also certainly varies a lot with how much experience you have. If you are getting a management or other high-level job, I wouldn’t consider a four week notice period unusual at all.
              If the letter writer was a manager and not an admin, I wouldn’t have even bothered to write the comment.

              However, I do stand by my opinion that it would almost certainly be a complete non-starter across the board for other type of work. In my experience, blue collar employers, like retail employers, would almost always take a mid employee today over an rockstar employee tomorrow. I don’t agree with that idea, but I’ve seen it happen far to much to dismiss it.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            How was the request couched? Was it a hard demand: under no circumstances would the candidate begin sooner? Or was it in fact a request: is this an accommodation that could be made? If the employer pulled the offer for the latter, this is a bullet dodged.

      2. Antilles*

        Four weeks isn’t an excessive notice period.

        I mean, they’re already assuming around 2-3 weeks (given the typical notice period). Maybe the new job can’t comply because of Reason X, but no reasonable employer is pulling an offer (and restarting their hiring process!) over that you requesting that level of delay.

      3. Apples and Oranges*

        Yikes. I mean I’m sure it’s happened but for me it’s so hard to find a good candidate (yes, even with entry-level admin roles) that a longer notice period is really nothing compared to how long it would take to find another candidate. And even if it were a problem, we’d just say “actually we really need you to start sooner” and negotiate. Certainly wouldn’t immediately pull the offer over a perfectly reasonable request.

      4. Sloanicota*

        I also think this varies as you move up. If your new role is relatively low level they often expect you to start right away (and personally I worry they’re thinking they had plenty of other candidates that can start sooner). When you’re higher level or more in demand they tend to be more understanding that you have to give your past role more time – I’ve seen new EDs get months before they start.

    2. Miette*

      I secretly love this interaction.

      “We ask for 4 weeks,” says boss.

      “I’m giving 2, die mad about it,” Zee replies :)

      1. Zee*

        They were a pretty crappy employer so I wasn’t feeling particularly like doing a favor to them. I plan on giving at least 4 weeks’ notice when I leave my current job, because I really like the job, the organization, my boss, and my coworkers. (I’ll be leaving to move out of state, not because of any issues with the job.)

        It took my old job 10 months to find someone to replace me so an extra 2 weeks would have made no difference whatsoever. I had written a lot of documentation as I went along (previous employee didn’t leave any) so it’s not like I left them in the lurch.

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Not paying out vacation if someone leaves in less than 1 year is a terrible policy. So is accruing 5 days a year.

      1. Zee*

        It is! And those weren’t even the most egregious issues by far. It was a situation where I pretty much had to take the first offer I got. Thankfully I’m not in that kind of situation any more, and hopefully won’t be in the future.

      2. Vacay Pay*

        Also had an entry level job where they wouldn’t pay out for vacation with less than 4 weeks. I left for a pretty significant salary bump, and if I had done the math it would have made more sense to just say “you get two weeks.”

        1. hugseverycat*

          I had one of these entry level jobs, too. They also required you to not take any time off during your notice period, for any reason whatsoever, or you lose your vacation.

          So instead of giving 2 weeks notice, I scheduled myself for a 2 week vacation (that was the max you could accrue anyway) and then never came back. Obviously, that bridge was extremely burnt but in my situation it was not a problem.

          1. allathian*

            That employer played a stupid game, so if they won a stupid prize it’s all on them. Kudos for beating the crappy system that time.

    4. Sparkle Llama*

      My handbook specifies that two weeks is required for hourly and four weeks is required for salary to be eligible for rehire. The distinction doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense but does capture all of the jobs that require significant handover (and a lot of jobs that don’t). It is reasonably common for higher level jobs in my field to call for 4 weeks and we tend to have extremely slow hiring. So if the position has been vacant for 4-8 months what is another two weeks?

      While it seems strange to require it in an admin role, I also would not expect the new employer to renege on the offer for that. There are all sorts of reasons people end up not being able to take a role two weeks after the offer (pre planned vacations, major events you want to see through, surgery or caregiving responsibilities).

      1. Clisby*

        In that case, the employee needs to assess whether they’d ever want to be rehired at that company. If the answer is no, then who cares what the employer wants?

        1. Sparkle Llama*

          In my case the issue is that HR would answer a reference check/background check with not eligible for rehire more so than actually working there again.

    5. BubbleTea*

      “We ask for 4 weeks’ notice.”

      “And I ask for 4 weeks’ paid vacation. I guess no one is getting what they ask for.”

  10. FirstnamelastnameUK*

    Nothing to offer beyond the good advice given, mainly because I’m British and we have these things called Trade Unions.
    Can you really be dismissed for no reason, without any notice and without any pay?

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yes. I would give more details, but it gets covered every single time the topic comes up on this site, so you can find those previous discussions if you’re interested :)

    2. Zee*

      Can you really be dismissed for no reason, without any notice and without any pay?

      Yes. Employment contracts are exceedingly rare here and employment laws pretty heavily favor corporations. (And even when they don’t – they’re rarely enforced.)

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      They have to pay you for the hours you worked prior to dismissal. But severance is rare. You can literally show up for work and be told a couple hours later, go home you are fired. But they have to pay you for those couple hours worked.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if you give the normal two weeks notice they can walk you right then and not pay those two weeks — so if that is the norm in one’s workplace then no notice is fair enough.

    4. INeedANap*

      As to your last part, at will employment means you can be fired at any time for any reason that is not illegal (including discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, medical status, and some others depending on state or political regime). You can be an amazing employee of several years in good standing and with multiple excellent performance reviews, and legally your company can say “we don’t like your shoes, pack your stuff and leave.”

      Many companies have internal policies requiring supervisors to undergo a whole management process before firing someone, but they are not legally bound to do so in at will employment.

      Most US workers are at-will employees. I work for the federal government so I am not an at-will employee, but jobs like mine are not the norm. Labor rights in this country are a joke.

    5. Amy*

      Yes. Then you’ll file for unemployment.

      But as you can see here, it works both ways. You can quit and start a new job with minimal notice too.

      1. Project Maniac-ger*

        Great point – unemployment is a bit of a check on at-will employment, because the rate that companies pay into unemployment increases if a bunch of their former employees sign up for unemployment, so it’s just a little pressure on companies to not get fire-happy.

        1. Bananapantsfeelings*

          But US unemployment has so many hurdles and barriers. They clearly want people to give up.

    6. Alan*

      Yes, but in practice it may not work out that way. There are protections for people over 40 and for religion and sex and race. My employer lives in mortal fear of lawsuits, to the extent that they’re very hesitant to terminate people, especially older people. I once knew someone who was falsifying travel reports for money and they didn’t fire him. I replaced someone on a project who had [bad stuff] on his work computer and while they fired him, he sued and they settled. It’s not always as easy to get rid of people and “at-will” implies. People can always accuse you of unfairly terminating a member of a protected class and then it’s up to the employer to defend.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Even beyond concerns of litigation, in practice, people are rarely just fired without any cause as most employers realize that there is a significant cost to hiring new employees. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen or that the lack of significant employee protections isn’t a concern, but it’s not the Wild West of people getting fired willy nilly like I feel like some non-Americans assume.

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      We do have the Warn Act, which requires in some circumstances that people be given 60 days notice, but that is for widespread layoffs.

    8. RabbitRabbit*

      I’ll add that 49 out of 50 US states are at-will. Montana is the exception, which requires more specific requirements to be able to dismiss someone after a probationary period. (I’m unclear of the process and the length of the probation.)

      As Alison noted, the vast majority of Americans don’t have an employment contract of any significance. They can change your pay rate at will (it’s only illegal to change it for hours already worked), they can eliminate your job at will.

    9. Petty Betty*

      The most common excuse I’ve seen has been “wasn’t a good fit” without specifying if it was for the role or for the personalities within the office or the personality of the manager. Generally it meant “the manager doesn’t like this person/or there is something the manager doesn’t approve of that could be deemed discrimination, so we’re going to keep it very vague so nobody asks questions”.

    10. Cat Tree*

      I’ll add that something that is legal isn’t necessarily *common* in practice. Most companies also have their own policies which managers follow.

      It’s rare to fire someone for no reason and replace them. Typically immediate firings happen because of something egregious, such as workplace violence, drug use, or vile verbal harassment. Poor job performance usually involves some kind of warning (although many folks are surprisingly unaware). For layoffs, which are done for business or budget reasons rather than performance, those can be more sudden but if a certain number of people are affected then other laws kick in.

      I’m not saying this to defend our system. We definitely need better legal protections for workers. But the whole country isn’t just some universal wasteland. I wish that some commenters outside the US would think more critically about extrapolating from the skewed data of an advice column.

    11. Ellis Bell*

      Before we get too smug about hard won rights being enshrined in the culture, let’s remember British workers can absolutely dismissed without notice too, if they’re on zero hours contracts. It’s not like it used to be for an awful lot of people; these kinds of fights are never really over.

      1. Blank*

        Plus only about a quarter of UK workers are unionised! More than the US, sure, but it’s not like at Scandinavia levels.

    12. Clisby*

      Yes. Certainly there are exceptions. People who work under union contracts have extra protections, as do at least federal civil service employees. Likely, many state employees do, too. At least in my state (SC), public school teachers work under year-long contracts where they cannot be fired just because the principal is grouchy that day. On the other hand, if they leave before their contract is up – let’s say they quit an unbearable job or quit to follow a spouse who got a job somewhere else – their SC teaching license can be suspended.

      1. Pros and cons*

        And people in unionized industries cannot choose to work for less pay than the contract entitles them to earn and thus may have difficulty finding new jobs late in their career.

        My dad had a Ph.D. and >25 years experience when his contract didn’t get picked up after the orientation year (I don’t remember what they call this, but the point where the school district assesses if they’re keeping a new hire long term) because he insisted on evacuating for repeated bomb threats and parents complained about their kids waiting outside in the snow/cold (early in his career he’d worked at a high school where an actual bomb went off so he took it seriously).

        He never got another fulltime job as a teacher or administrator again even though he was licensed in five states (he got a few leave replacement jobs, taught in prisons, taught at some local colleges, etc). He was too expensive, and they could hire two early stage, not as educated teachers for the same amount of money. He spent the 20 years before he officially retired scraping for work because the union wouldn’t allow him to work for the compensation schools were willing to pay.

        So unions have downsides too. I appreciate that they help immensely around working conditions, but some of the so-called fairness aspects can be double edged swords.

        I work in non-unionized industries and I get to pick what’s right for me. If I want to take less pay for better benefits I can. If can I negotiate a perk that’s important to me then I can get it from the company. Is it perfect? Of course not, but my dad’s experience shows me that unions aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be either.

    13. BubbleTea*

      Trade unions are not directly the reason people can’t be fired for no reason in the UK, nor is it the case that people can’t be fired without notice.

      The primary differences are that workers’ rights are enshrined in law here (which is partly thanks to trade unions, admittedly) and that most people are legally entitled to a written employment contract.

      We also have the delightful concept of zero-hours contracts, a preponderance of part-time minimum wage jobs, and the gig economy. So it’s hardly all sunshine and roses over here, and acting like it is doesn’t really help anyone on either side of the Atlantic.

  11. CommanderBanana*

    I got an offer letter once that said that if I discussed salary with coworkers I could be fired. Which is illegal. I sent it back along with a link to the NLRA. The response was that they didn’t care and they’d keep it on there until they got “slapped on the hand.”

    It was for a piddly part-time retail job that I was taking as a way to make extra money, so I just crossed out that paragraph and signed it. If it had been for a full-time job I wouldn’t have taken it (hello red flags).

    1. Lab Boss*

      I’m a fellow striker-out-of-clauses in contracts I don’t like, so I applaud you for that move.

      1. Strikeouts*

        How do you do that now that most contracts are online? I used to do this too but now I rarely can :(

    2. Bananapantsfeelings*

      I just sign that illegal stuff and then tell my coworkers that it’s illegal, especially the younger ones.

    3. Nina*

      I’m not American so I’m not sure how this would go, but isn’t that practically an engraved invitation to forward both offer letter and the employer’s commentary on the offer letter straight to the NLRA?

  12. WantonSeedStitch*

    My first job out of college, I was working as an admin, and the company said the same thing in their offer letter. When I left, things were NOT good (awful mismatch between me and the company, the anxiety made me a hot mess of an employee), and I only gave two weeks notice. My boss was actually surprisingly (and rarely) nice about it–I guess he was as happy to be getting rid of me as I was to be leaving!

  13. ecnaseener*

    LW, you mention wanting a good reference and that’s legit. Consider what you know about your boss: are they petty enough to change their tune about you over this and turn a good reference into a lukewarm or bad one? If so, then it may be worth trying to give 4 weeks. If not, then at worst you’re risking “LW was great overall, but they only gave 2 weeks notice instead of the 4 weeks we ask for” — which no reference-checker will care about.

  14. No Longer Working*

    An accepted offer does not constitute a contract then? Party A makes and offer to Party B which accepts. I thought that creates a contract?

    1. ecnaseener*

      It sort of does, but a contract that explicitly includes “this is at-will, meaning the terms can change at any time.” So, not much of a contract except for in certain narrow circumstances (IANAL but something something detrimental reliance maybe?)

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      There has to be consideration. What is OP getting in exchange for the 4 weeks? Not a job because that’s already there. Not severance because its not offered. Not being given the same notice if being let go.

      There are 3 things to a contract — offer, acceptance and consideration.

      1. Beth**

        That’s not how contracts work, though. Yes, there has to be consideration, but that’s at the level of the contract, not each clause in the contract.

        And there *is* consideration un an employment contract. Presumably the OP has been getting a salary. It would be legal for the employer to include a clause about notice as part of that contract. .

        But to sue the OP for breach of contract, they would need to prove loss by the OP giving 2 rather than 4 weeks notice. So unless they’re just trying to scare the rest of the staff into taking the 4 week requirement seriously, the risk of legal action is going to be low.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I think contract of adhesion* might provide a decent defense there, though.

          *A contract of adhesion is one where one of the parties really doesn’t have any bargaining power to negotiate the various clauses.

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Lawyer, yes that is literally how contracts work. There is no consideration for the 4 weeks notice. Alison even mentions that in her answer.

    3. Jackie Daytona, Regular Human Bartender*

      A contract for what though? Can’t be for at-will employment AND require four weeks notice (or ANY notice). Those are incompatible terms.

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      Work contracts generally have a time limit. Six months, a year, a school year, etc. Offer letters don’t. It’s the terms of the offer at the time it is made. Either side can offer changes later, and if the change isn’t acceptable to the other party, the agreement is over with no penalty to either side.

      1. BubbleTea*

        You can have permanent contracts. Less common in the UK now than they used to be, but I’ve had colleagues who were still working on permanent contracts even though all the newer employees had fixed term contracts.

  15. UpstateDownstate*

    I worked for an employer that asked for 1 month’s notice and in return agreed to give me 1 month’s notice (or no work but 1 month’s pay). I thought that was fine, although annoying, but they were also a global company and were not very flexible when it came to changing their policies.

    I agree with the advice here that you should give 2-weeks notice and use the language that it was the most you could negotiate to signal that it is final and not something up for debate. AND…most of all I love the advice that you give yourself some time off between the two jobs. I always advise this, and I know it’s not always possible, but it’s so important to do if you can afford it.

    Best of luck in your future new job! :)

    1. DontImplyMoreShouldBeGiven*

      If they’re the type to care, saying it’s the most you could negotiate won’t matter and it implies you know you should be giving more. I would not include that language

    2. hms*

      I’m always curious how this works if you need health insurance coverage to be continuous? Is it possible to take a week in between jobs?

      1. Combinatorialist*

        As long as the week you want off isn’t the first of the month (and there isn’t a waiting period at the new job), yes. I believe that it is nearly universal in the US for health insurance to continue to the end of the month of your last day. So if your last day is July 1, you get insurance through July 31. This is why people often retire on the first of the month.

      2. Turnipnator*

        Realistically? Many if not most people would just chance it and go without insurance for a week. However, it’s also fairly common to be not covered immediately by a new employer, so having to pay for insurance for a month (or three) when changing jobs is pretty normal.

        There’s a few ways to go about covering that week/month (assuming you couldn’t get health benefits through a spouse or partner): 1. purchasing a marketplace plan (options vary by state), as leaving a job voluntarily or otherwise is a qualifying event for purchasing insurance, or 2. electing COBRA coverage, where you continue to be covered by your employer’s plan but have to pay for both your and their contribution for the duration.

        Both of these will backdate coverage so getting it in place _immediately_ after leaving a job isn’t the biggest concern. If you were just covering a single week, COBRA would be much simpler: you elect the benefits, and then cancel them when you have new coverage. However, unless your past employer is incredibly stingy, COBRA coverage is much more expensive than a marketplace plan. A marketplace plan is cheaper but comes with a lot more hassle, and often the coverage options are not as good.

        1. Curious*

          I’d be really concerned about the “three drops of blood” thing. That sounds like enough to run a DNA test, or — if you believe in such magicks — impose a geas.

          1. Bananapantsfeelings*

            Imposing a geas is the most reasonable thing to worry about, for sure.


            P.S. it’s an audiobook peeve when narrators pronounce that word phonetically in English instead of “gesh” or one of the other Gaelic variations.

  16. Sandra*

    My employer has a policy requiring 4 weeks notice but it’s just a way to get out of paying out vacation time. We get very generous vacation and personal days, and it’s easy to accrue 3-4 weeks of vacation so they deduct it from your payout if you don’t give 4 weeks notice.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Any time I see a work policy that seems to be weird or confusing, my first thought is always “how can they leverage this to save money on something, while claiming that the policy isn’t just designed to save them money on something?”

  17. Trout 'Waver*

    I’m going to disagree slightly with the answer here. No offense, but if you feel the need to ask an advice columnist how to handle this, I would recommend not asking around discreetly. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in asking around and it’s definitely not the shallow end of the office politics pool.

    1. peter b*

      If you have to add “no offense” when making assumptions about people you don’t know, seems like you are being a bit offensive to me. Writing in to an advice columnist doesn’t mean someone has no discretion!

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        That’s awfully reductionist and black-and-white, don’t you think? Saying something is on the tougher end of office politics is in no way saying someone has no discretion whatsoever.

        Also, I will note that it is impossible to soften my language enough for every single commenter here. You’ll have to take me at my word that I mean no offense. If you are eager to read offense where there is none, mazel tov.

        1. Bananapantsfeelings*

          I’ve only known one person who used “no offense” before actually *not being offensive*. Interactions with her were confusing because I braced for her to be offensive but then she wasn’t. I finally realized that because she is not a native speaker she didn’t realize that phrase was just kindergarten-logic cover for jerks to be rude.

  18. Sparkles McFadden*

    Just state what’s happening like it’s a done deal. It’s entirely possible your boss doesn’t remember what the offer letter said or what was in that document in the first place.

    I was at OddJob for 30 years and during one job switch, a new HR person sent me offer letter that stated all kinds of unenforceable nonsense like four weeks notice. I asked the hiring manager about it, and she said “We have offer letters? Since when?” I never signed it and no one cared. If your workplace does care, then they’ll care about something else ridiculous and be weird about that. Just be professional and state what you need to do, Good luck!

    1. noahwynn*

      I worked for a smaller company that was acquired by a larger company. As part of the acquisition we all had to do new paperwork and one of the items they sent over for me was a non-compete. I just never signed it and sent everything else back. No one realized it until I quit nearly a year later and they tried to tell me I couldn’t go work for another company in the industry.

    1. Box of Kittens*

      In the first paragraph: “I also live in an at-will employment state (New York, if it helps),”

    2. Beth**

      As others have said, the OP indicated that they are in NY, not the UK, but in the UK, 4 weeks notice is on the short end. My employer requires 1 month from clerical/admin staff, 3 months for most other people and 6 months for senior staff (directors etc.).

    3. UpstateDownstate*

      Funny enough my former employer was a UK based company and had this in all of their offers even though I explained what at-will meant for NY/CA etc. They were also within a very niche industry and had competitors (also UK based with NY/CA locations) and any time a US employee left and gave whatever notice they felt like they would low key threaten to sue them but never did. Wacky!!!

      1. workswitholdstuff*

        Yeah, in the UK, eyebrows would be raised at a shorter notice period, not the 4 weeks.

        That said, I’m still bitter at the call centre that made me give 6 weeks, because I’d been then over 6 years and they had a thing that was ‘4 weeks notice unless you’d been there longer than 5 years, in which case it was a week per year you’d worked’. They never normally made people give long than 4 weeks if you were on the phones, but because I was working taking calls for a contract that was drawing to a close, they made me do 6 weeks.

        Luckily I was shifting sectors entirely and the museum I was going to were fine with it, bu 15 odd years later, I’m still grumpy about it!

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Even when it’s a UK industry standard, and even if your carefully checked contract is pressuring you to do X weeks of notice; you often still have the option of not giving full notice if it’s a deal-breaker in your career. I’ve been in situations where the four week’s notice period is what everyone on both sides is expecting, and for that reason no one cares, take your last week of holiday allowance at the end after working three weeks and job done. But I’ve also had situations, especially where you’re moving from one industry to another, where you can just say “Look, I asked for a start date that would allow four/five weeks but they really need me to start right away, so I’m going to have to give two/three weeks.” It’s hugely dependent on industry (I doubt anyone would try to stop a student retail employee grabbing their first graduate level role, but if you tried to leave too quickly in something like teaching, you’d be murdered and your reputation too) and whether it’s a genuine inconvenience, but lots of employers wouldn’t stop their employees moving on quickly if they really needed to. YMMV in terms of your reference, but I think it’s worth asking a lot of the time.

  19. HonorBox*

    LW, I think that while they might WANT four weeks and have some vague threat of legal action. But at the very least, I’d strongly encourage you to distance yourself from putting any weight into the idea that they’d want you to train your replacement. Even for entry-level positions, it is likely that you might have a week at best to train someone. At best. Unless they’re making an internal hire, by the time a large corporation is posting and hiring someone, a month will be gone before you know it. This may not be the biggest deal in all of this, but if you can help yourself a little bit by removing that concern, it might give you some more clarity in how to move forward.

    1. Knittercubed*

      When I retired I gave 6 months notice. They still hadn’t even started the hiring process by my last day.

  20. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    IANAL, but I am currently representing myself in a contract dispute (at the advice of my lawyer)…let’s assume for a moment they even try to go after you, what are the damages to a low-level admin not working two extra weeks? I hardly see this coming close to the standards for specific performance being a remedy, so they are basically stuck looking for monetary compensation by showing you were worth $X/week more than your paycheck and they had no other way to recoup that value. I guess it’s possible that there was some kind of liquidated damages clause in your offer letter, but at that point it’s likely to be seen as either (or both) punitive or lacking consideration.

    If you really are worried about them coming after you (you shouldn’t be, but I get the instinct), keep an eye on how quickly they post your position and start vetting candidates. If they don’t even start the process until the middle of the second week, it’s highly unlikely that they would have someone hired for you to train even if you have four weeks notice, which is a great argument against their being damages.

  21. LinuxSystemsGuy*

    This sounds like something some upper manager threw into the offer letter in the hopes that they might scare a few people into giving them extra notice. For what it’s worth though, definitely check your employee handbook. Some quick googling tells me that in New York employers can withhold unpaid leave *if* they have a published policy saying they can do so. So if they have published policy saying that to get your leave paid out, you have to give four weeks notice, that’s legal in your state.

    All that said, if you want the new job, and they want you to start in two weeks, I’d definitely just give two weeks notice and move on with life.

  22. kiki*

    I have a suspicion the four week notice clause was added to offer letters to account for folks in leadership positions or more essential roles for whom a four week transition may actually be needed for smooth operations. I bet HR/ recruiting/etc. just neglected to customize their template for different roles and the company would be fine with LW leaving with two weeks notice rather than four.

    1. kiki*

      I also want to add that a lot of hiring managers will be fine pushing a start date a couple extra weeks out, especially if it’s for the employee to give a current position more notice. Generally hiring processes take a few weeks (or even months) on the employer’s side– it’s reasonable and fair that an employee would need to take a few weeks to get things sorted on their side once the offer is in place.

      It’s a bit of a red flag, imo, if a job is super pushy about an employee starting right away. This might just be my experience, but when I briefly worked at an org that they pushed me to start ASAP they were understaffed and had wild expectations of employees in more than just start date.

    2. Spring*

      This makes the most sense as the reason for the “requirement” of for weeks’ notice.

    3. Czhorat*

      That’s what I was thinking.

      The more responsibility you have the more effort it takes to offload your work to someone else; it can sometimes be a complicated handoff that needs to be coordinated with multiple stakeholders.

      If your job is “answer the phone” then it’s mostly a matter of jugglign the schedule to get someone else to fill that role until a long-term replacement is finalized.

      It’s entirely possible that they’d not expect or particularly want an admin person to give that much notice.

  23. I need a cool name*

    My last job required 4 weeks notice or you forfeited your vacation time payout. Heard about one person who only gave 2 weeks notice and was told she wouldn’t get her vacation payout because of it, so she offered to stay another two weeks and was told, nope, your termination date is on the system, too late now. Thankfully my current employer was willing to wait the extra time for me to be able to start.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah to be honest that really sounds more like they just don’t want to offer vacation payout than them seriously needing four weeks.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This sort of thing is why many people like to give notice at the end of a vacation. (Also more common when a company goes to “unlimited PTO”.)

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        Why would you ever quit a job with unlimited vacation? Just start working you new job and keep taking the vacation pay until they fire you.

  24. J!*

    My last job had a 30 day notice period and offered an incentive – if you gave the full month, you would get two week’s pay for each year of service to the company on top of your vacation payout, up to a certain amount of weeks. If you left before that you’d only get your vacation.

    Obviously I didn’t want to forfeit the money, so when I was getting close to the end of the interview process with my current job, I let them know that I had a 4-week notice period. They wanted me, and we made it work! If you don’t want to burn bridges, it doesn’t hurt to ask when you’re at (or close to) the offer stage, just like any other negotiation. They give a date, you give your date and the reason, and you figure out what makes sense. Maybe they definitely need you by a certain date, maybe it’s more flexible.

    1. Combinatorialist*

      And sometimes if they want you to start sooner, you can negotiate a signing bonus equal to the lost vacation time/bonus for the reduced notice.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Using a carrot instead of a stick sounds like a much better way to get longer notices!

  25. Reciprocity*

    Just a minor correction – there are many signed agreements that have only employer friendly language by default – I always negotiate reciprocity, or as close to it as I can get (sometimes I’ve settled for getting some notice from the company but less than I’m asked to give; often this is where I end up if I start with a contract that says they can give me notice but I can’t give it to them). These are more common for contract/time limited jobs but I have seen them for normal employment every so often, even in at will states.

    Also, there’s a reason why employers have started requiring employees to sign employee handbooks (the place where stuff like this usually lives when there isn’t a separate signed agreement). It makes it more legally enforceable.

    So if you haven’t signed something, you’re probably fine. If you have, give two weeks notice, and they don’t say anything you’re golden. If you’ve signed something and they make a big deal, you have to assess whether you want to potentially let it escalate or if you want to ask the new employer about starting in 4 weeks.

    Also, do you know their timeframes? I’ve actually gotten offers where the company preferred a 4-6 week lead time because a boss was going on vacation or other reasons.

    Further, in my experience, even if they say no, most companies like it when candidates ask about meeting the requirements of previous agreements/accommodating current employers as it means you’re likely to offer them the same courtesy in the future.

    Good luck!

    1. kiki*

      most companies like it when candidates ask about meeting the requirements of previous agreements/accommodating current employers as it means you’re likely to offer them the same courtesy in the future

      Yes! Most companies realize that employees who want to do right by their current employers are more likely to the same going forward. In my experience, the companies who want their new hires to leave their current employers in the lurch (leaving without much notice, etc.) lack integrity and respect and will not be great to work for.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Having you sign that you agree to anything they’ve written in a handbook doesn’t override the nature of at-will employment /doesn’t legally mandate you to provide notice (in the “enforceable by courts” sense) unless they have also agreed to forfeit at-will benefits for themselves as well, which they almost certainly have not.

      1. Reciprocity*

        Reciprocity is not a requirement according to my employment lawyer (in Massachusetts) but that may be location specific.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          By definition at-will employment must go in both directions, unless you have a very clear contract to the contrary (which would require some other form of consideration in it).

          1. AnonLawyer*

            I just want to caution that this isn’t true for all states. At least in Georgia, an employer can retain at-will privileges for itself but require notice for the employee without any consideration other than the offer of employment and salary. See Avion Systems Inc. v. Thompson, 293 Ga. App. 60 (2008).

  26. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

    I’m one of the few people who actually has a contract such as Allison describes. I’ve had colleagues not follow it and employer hasn’t bothered to take an illegal action. it does burn a bridge but people know that when they make the decision.

  27. Statler von Waldorf*

    One of the bigger differences between employment law in Canada and the US is that in Canada, unlike the US, you can absolutely be sued by your employer for failure to give “reasonable” notice. Reasonable notice is usually considered two weeks, but that can vary depending on the specific facts of the case.

    However, this rarely happens. In order to win the case, the company must prove that it suffered actual damages as a result of the employee quitting without notice. So if you are doing sales and you just tanked a ten million dollar deal by quitting at the wrong time, you could reasonably expect to get sued. If you quit without notice while working at Wal-Mart, probably not so much.

    For the OP, I wouldn’t worry about the legal side of things. At-will employment cuts both ways, and this is the case where it’s in the employee’s favor. Really, the question here is whether the good reference is worth the giving the extra two weeks notice and taking the risk of the job offer getting pulled over it. That’s a value judgment that OP will have to make.

  28. Lobstermn*

    Anyone this unreasonable will find some other reason to give you a lousy reference. Give the standard 2 weeks, prepare to be walked out when you do.

  29. Sudsy Malone*

    I believe my last job had something in the (ancient) handbook about wanting four weeks or you might not get PTO paid out/rehire eligibility. I gave three weeks, never mentioned it, and neither did anyone else. Got my full payout.

    If you want to do more reconnaissance but don’t want to ask your current colleagues, here are two other ideas: 1) If you are in touch at all with anyone who has already left the company, ask them. Still requires some trust, of course, and I wouldn’t do it in writing. 2) Does your workplace do email announcements when someone is leaving? Dig around in your inbox and see if you have any old ones floating around. I suspect you will not find that they are all 3-4 weeks out. If you see a bunch that are 10-14 days out, that should give you some confidence.

    1. OP*

      OP here – this is so funny because they actually did wait until 2 weeks out to send out the administrative notice that I was leaving! (I left a longer update below but long story short, I did give four weeks and it was fine.)

  30. Amy*

    My spouse has been a recruiter in NY for 20 years. I just asked him about this letter. He says he has occasionally had 30 day contracts enforced against senior management.

    But that it would be almost impossible to enforce against an administrative assistant. Even for analyst level ($100-175K) no one blinks an eye at 2 weeks notice.

  31. CRM*

    +1 on the recommendation to reach out to your coworkers about their thoughts. You don’t need to disclose that you are leaving, you can just say “hey, I was reviewing the employee handbook today (or whatever) and I was reminded about the leave policy. In your experience, do a lot of people actually give 4 weeks, especially for someone in a role like mine?”

    I was in a role once that claimed they required 6 weeks notice or face “potential for penalty” (a description of said penalty was not provided). I checked in with my coworkers about it, they laughed and said that it was a baseless threat and nobody except for executives gave that kind of notice. When I eventually left, I gave 2 weeks notice, and it wasn’t questioned once.

  32. Elle by the sea*

    Depends on the country. Here in the UK the notice period is usually a month and it increases with seniority/tenure in the job. Not sure about the US – as far as I remember, two weeks is the standard there

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. I’m in Finland, and the standard is a month, or in retail the period for which shifts are fixed, a rolling three weeks when I worked retail. Rolling in the sense that the employee always knows their shifts at least two weeks in advance, and if they ask for a particular shift change before that period it’s generally easy to fix.

      That said, apart from one job at a call center when I was employed by project and didn’t have any benefits (vacation accrual was paid as a percentage on top of every paycheck), I’ve always had employment contracts for every job. I left that job basically without notice, on the last day I told the shift manager that I wouldn’t be back and they mailed me the last payslip.

      Heck, I even signed something for a two-week unpaid traineeship (I did get a free lunch) when I was in 9th grade and legally incompetent to enter into a contractual relationship, but even so I’m not certain if my parent countersigned it. I’m absolutely certain that my parent didn’t sign my employment contract when I started my first real job when I was 17.

  33. NYC Boss*

    I would be very careful here, depending on the industry. OP says she works in NY – I work in NYC in the financial services industry and can confirm that notice periods are considered as serious as a heart attack. Bridges may be burned with not just the employer you are leaving but with your new employer and future employers.

    Definitely ask around, OP. Is it standard in your industry to give 4 weeks notice? If so, you don’t want other employers to view you as the person who will quit with half the notice. You likely won’t get sued, but in my industry, you could find yourself on an unofficial no hire list.

    1. OP*

      Hey, OP here! I actually was working in the financial industry in NYC, lol. I left a longer update below, but I did actually give them four weeks – new employer was cool with it, thankfully. I’m not sure if it was the standard for my ex-employer to ask for four weeks. But I really did want a good reference in the future, and now I know I’ll have it if needed.

      1. NYC Boss*

        Ha! My ears perked up on this question because I’m familiar with how it works here. Glad everything went smoothly for you!

    2. Pretty as a Princess*

      This is such a great point.

      I feel like there is probably a very specific Reddit that could give this insight?

    3. Too Many Tabs Open*

      Though if the new firm is a similar industry, they’d likely have similar norms so wouldn’t have a problem with OP needing to put in four more weeks at current job.

  34. Cacofonix*

    Say this were in Canada, an offer letter that was accepted is indeed a contract. It constitutes an agreement between 2 parties and there is no requirement that termination terms be reciprocal. Cautionary tale for those who accept offer letters containing terms you don’t agree with; you’ll need to negotiate. A signature is merely evidence, not a base requirement of a contract.

    But in Canada, we don’t have at-will employment. Employers have a legal obligation to give notice of termination except for gross misconduct.

    But in this case, the employer would have to prove damages for those 2 weeks, which could be at a stretch…the cost of hiring a temp. Hardly worth it to them but it would likely be more than you would have made had you stayed. But that would be weird. Quit as professionally as possible 2 weeks or not.

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      The cost of hiring a temp would not qualify for damages in Canada. Damages for wrongful resignation only arise where an employer can prove losses that directly arises due to the worker’s failure to provide sufficient notice. Such losses cannot include costs to hire a replacement, as these costs would be incurred even if proper notice of resignation was provided.

      In 20 years doing HR in Canada, I’ve only seen one wrongful resignation suit. It occurred when a salesman tanked a 10 million dollar deal by quitting on the spot. Despite being a well documented case, they still settled out of court rather than risk a trial.

  35. Goldenrod*

    As usual, Alison’s advice was perfection. Especially this part:

    “They could also put in your offer letter that you can’t leave until you’ve supplied them with three drops of your own blood, or the feather of a rare bird.”


    These people sound like a-holes to me. Good riddance to them, and good luck in your new job, LW!

  36. OP*

    Hi – letter writer here! Thank you so much for answering. Unfortunately I didn’t see this in time for it to apply to this situation, but this will be really helpful for the future, and I hope it helps other people in similar situations.

    I ended up getting the job, and I told my new employer that my old company wanted four weeks’ notice; they understood that I didn’t want to open myself up to legal action or burn a bridge, so they allowed it. I gave four weeks’ notice at my old job and completed it, but I was exhausted at the end of it – I was so checked out (the old job paid very well but was very boring to me; no upward mobility, and it was the same menial tasks day in and day out – new job is in a field I’m interested in and there are many more growth and learning opportunities, yay!). It was mostly fine though, aside from the fact that when I spoke to some of my other coworkers, they were shocked that I gave so much notice. I asked if the same clause had been put into other offer letters – mostly they said they hadn’t noticed it, but it was frustrating to think that this was in my offer letter and not anyone else’s. (Again, I’m not 100% sure that’s the case…but I’m suspicious.)

    I was unable to take time off in between jobs, which would have been ideal because of how burnt out I was feeling on the old job. (That was another thing that some of my coworkers expressed shock about – even my boss asked “are you taking time off in between?” and I looked him in the eye and said (as nicely as possible) “no? You asked for four weeks?” The disconnect was crazy.) However, I did have a vacation already booked for early July that my new job was thankfully happy to accommodate. So I’ll still get my decompression time, just a few weeks after I started. And my new job has unlimited vacation time :)

    Unfortunately my old workplace seemed to have a culture of being stricter with the administrative staff than other employees. I understand that they may have had a few bad employees who caused them to make these rules, but it really led to a weird workplace culture, where there was sort of an us-vs.-them mentality on both sides. I tried my best to keep my head down and follow the rules the whole time I was there, as I was really only in it for the money while I looked for a job I could actually be passionate about, and I was consistently given very good performance reviews and was never reprimanded for anything. I’m very much a rule follower/people-pleaser, so I didn’t want to rock the boat. If this ever happens again I’ll know what to do – thank you!

    1. Generic Name*

      Thanks for the update! I’m glad it ended up being okay. Did they actually hire your replacement during this time/were you able to train them?

  37. Joie De Vivre*

    I worked for a hospital that required 4 weeks notice from managers and above – or you wouldn’t be eligible for rehire.

    I thought that was short sighted- you could have a fantastic long term employee that wasn’t eligible for rehire because they gave 2 weeks notice instead of 4. They guaranteed some good employees would never come back.

  38. Yes And*

    OP, you don’t say if giving 4 weeks is something YOU would want to do, if your new employer is amenable. If not, then everybody’s advice stand. But if yes, then there’s no harm in asking your new employer if they can be flexible about your start date. As long as you make clear that this is a request and not a demand, it can’t hurt.

    FWIW, my employer has a line in the employee manual that people resigning are “urged” to give four weeks, but there’s no consequences attached, and they certainly don’t threaten to sue anyone. That makes me raise an eyebrow at your current employer’s entire approach to employment practices.

    Finally, I hope you unburden yourself of the expectation to train your replacement. In my experience, it’s unlikely for an administrative job to be posted, collect applicants, interview, check references, make an offer, and have an acceptance within four weeks anyway. And it’s nearly impossible within two weeks, which is what it would have to be if your employer wanted you to overlap with a replacement who gave two weeks’ notice at their prior job – which it would be incredibly hypocritical of your employer to ask for.

  39. Kate*

    I worked for a non-US subsidiary of a US entity, and the offer letter said that I needed to give 4 weeks notice. I was in a relatively senior position, but part of the reason I was leaving was that there was never enough to do, so I decided to just go in matter-of-fact and tell them I’m giving my two weeks notice, that I’ve documented all I can and went from there. There was no push back. I was worked collaboratively with the hand-over team to get them up to speed and had documented my role and processes. I’ve since used those colleagues as references, with no issues.

    I’d say give what notice is needed to hand over the role (and document some of the role now, even before you have an offer, it’s a good exercise even if you don’t change jobs), and take a week off between positions if you can afford it to unplug and reset yourself.

  40. Clementine*

    The following is more applicable for jobs with benefits in the US. I realize it doesn’t cover everyone’s situation.

    Although it sounds nice to take a week off between jobs, remember “you” are the one paying for it, and it will mean the loss of one week’s paycheck. In addition, you may have a gap in health insurance coverage, especially in respect to short-term/long-term disability. For example, if you are injured during that week, will you even be able to start your new job? I prefer to use the paid vacation offered by the next company. If possible, try to swing a vacation close to the time of departure from your previous job.

    1. Orv*

      That’s a good point, but it gets more complicated if you have to relocate for the new job. In my experience moving any significant distance is easily a full week’s job even if you’ve packed most of your stuff ahead of time.

    2. Zee*

      That is a very important thing to consider. In my personal experience, the way my health insurance has worked is that you pay March’s premiums in February, so even if you quit March 1 you still are covered for the whole month. But I’m sure that varies by company.

      1. Clementine*

        I think that will generally work for health insurance re the end of the month, but if you become too injured or sick to start the new job, during the week you are unemployed, what then?

  41. Garblesnark*

    If you are at-will, you actually can give four seconds of notice without risking legal action in low-level admin positions.

  42. Bonkers McBonkerville*

    So if you have ever worked in “fundraising,” you have to perpetually look over your shoulder because fundraising is small world not only does everybody know everybody in the industry, they know people outside of the industry so don’t say anything ever.

    If you work in low-level administrative function no one is going think about you after you’ve left.

  43. i drink too much coffee*

    I once started working for a place that tried to get me to sign a non-compete. I was an administrative assistant!

    I just never signed it. They asked me about it once, I said I’d take a look at it and get it over, and just… never did. They never asked again. I refused to sign a non-compete in such a low, entry-level position because I thought it was absolutely ridiculous.

    I’ve since learned most non-competes aren’t enforceable anyway, but I still don’t sign anything without reading it first.

  44. Mouse named Anon*

    I too encourage a week off between jobs. Use that time to unwind, stock your pantry and fridge, do any chores or tasks around the house you have been putting off. Maybe run some errands too. Remember the first few weeks at a new job can be super draining mentally. One day after starting a new job, I took a hot shower and climbed into bed at like 7:30 bc I was so pooped. LOL

  45. Vanilla Latte*

    I agree with Alison except on the asking around. Do not ask around. Work friends are situational and work gossip is the fastest gossip there is. Keep your new job card very close.

  46. el l*

    It’s all a question of (a) How likely and (b) How much you fear being dragged through a lawsuit. A lawsuit you’ll win, but it’s still trouble and/or a distraction. The only way to answer (a) is to see how often they like to bring in lawyers.

    If the answer is “Yes, this is a problem, and I really want the good reference” then without going into details would just say to new employer that you’re bound to a 4-week notice. It’s not that much more than the standard 2. If they push back, then my advice is to take the new job and tell old employer to, “find the signed and countersigned contract that proves I agreed to a 4 week notice.”

    Hate that your company’s legal power play works. Only suggest that it’s worth asking whether it’s better to be right – or to be past the problem.

  47. Michelle Smith*

    Taking off time between jobs is not a luxury I’ve ever had. I have, however, had jobs with stupidly long notice periods and I live in New York. I didn’t do what is recommended here. I told my new employer that the employer I was leaving required 6 weeks notice. The new employer asked me to start sooner, because 6 weeks was too long, so I went to a person in administration and asked for permission to give a shorter notice period. We compromised at me giving 3 weeks notice instead of 6 and I voluntarily came in on the last 2 weekends of that notice period to prepare all of my files for transfer to other attorneys. I got glowing references after leaving and am eligible for rehire. Sometimes all you have to do is ask and people are reasonable.

  48. Lucy Librarian*

    I work at a private university in the US and the handbook states 2 weeks notice for non-exempt and 4 weeks notice for exempt. I assume it’s because they want time to wrap things up, but in my experience nothing is ever wrapped up, resolved, or explained before someone leaves, and a new person is certainly never hired in that time period. It doesn’t say anything about affecting vacation time payout. If it would affect anything, it would most likely be whether you’d be eligible for rehire with the university or not. It could affect a reference depending on what your department is like.

  49. Ollie*

    A company I worked for as a manager said that they required 4 weeks notice if you were a manager. I gave two and the boss said something but I said I couldn’t negotiate any more time. I suppose I am blacklisted for hiring there but I didn’t want to go back and I was moving 800 miles away for the new job.

  50. HappyNow*

    Two weeks notice! A job I was at a number of years ago also required for weeks notice per the handbook. I had only been there six months, my boss was somewhat toxic, and I had received a nice offer for more money closer to home. First thing on a Monday, I provided a written resignation with two weeks notice—first to my grandboss, then my direct manager. (she was scary, vindictive and accusatory!) Long story short, I was told that “we” would make the upcoming Friday my last day. Worked for me; I got that nice transition week between jobs.

    But the moral is when it’s convenient, they will change the rules to suit themselves. And I always was always thankful that I only gave two weeks notice and not four weeks because I suspect the outcome would’ve been the same —I would have been gone with one weeks notice. Lesson learned!

  51. Roland*

    > They could also put in your offer letter that you can’t leave until you’ve supplied them with three drops of your own blood, or the feather of a rare bird.

    I love the examples you come up with.

  52. PDB*

    On one of my job changes I left one job on Friday in San Francisco and started Monday in LA. I don’t recommend it.

  53. Glazed Donut*

    I just backed out of a job, partly because the contract was so wild for my field (education). One small part of the contract stated that if I resigned before the school year ended, even giving 30 days’ notice, I’d have to pay thousands of dollars for them to “find a suitable replacement” — that is, even if I gave notice in mid-April that my last day would be mid- May and they’d only need to cover the last week or two of school.
    I’ve seen a lot of education contracts in my area, and it was SO out of the norm. When I mentioned it to a would-be coworker, she said “oh, and they’ll make you pay! Some of the good ones who have left have had their new school pay the fee.” I think she was trying to tell me that no one is really held hostage if they’re unhappy but it didn’t sit right with me at all.

  54. Dog momma*

    If you’re in health care, ( nurse or other professional) even if not in clinical, 4 weeks notice is the norm in NYS.

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