Can I leave my job without working my notice period?

2 February 2021

If you find yourself in the position of serving a notice period, it can be quite awkward from both sides, depending on the circumstances.

leave my job without working my notice period


People resign from their position for all sorts of reasons, usually because they have found another role that seems to suit them better, either for location, salary, personal circumstances, promotion, or something else entirely. Other times, they might simply have got to a point where enough is enough and they just want to shout, “I quit!” before grabbing their coat and walking out without so much as a glance over their shoulder. We’ve seen it in films, but is that something someone could actually do when they have a notice period in their contract?

Notice periods are written into contracts to give both parties time. A notice period is an amount of time, agreed when the contract of employment is signed in terms of how much time must be worked from telling your employer that you are leaving to your last day at work. It can be anything from a week to three months or more in some circumstances and it works both ways. This notice period provides you the employee some reassurance that you won’t suddenly find yourself out of work and gives your employer time to find someone to replace you before you leave their company. You should be paid your full salary during your notice period unless you have agreed with your employer a mutual earlier date to leave the company or if you have been dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct and therefore you would not be entitled to notice.

Of course, no-one knows what the future holds when they join a company, and a situation might arise where you are not able to serve that notice, or that you really don’t want to. Read on for the answers to some frequently asked questions with regard to notice periods.

I’m not sure what my notice period is

Your notice period should be set out in your contract of employment, and you should make sure that you read this carefully before signing and accepting the position. If the termination notice period is not mentioned, you should expect to give at least a week before you leave. Confirmation that you intend to leave should be given in writing – your resignation – and this should usually be in the form of an email or a traditional letter.

Your resignation letter should include the date that you are resigning, your agreed notice period, and the date of your last working day. You should expect your notice period to commence from the day after you hand in your notice rather than including it; if you cannot see your manager until the end of the day, for example, you shouldn’t expect that to count towards your notice.

Can I leave my job without working my notice period?

In normal circumstances, you should expect to work your full notice period. That is the simplest option. Your employer may be willing to negotiate a shorter timescale, though they are not obliged to. It might be that you have another job you want to start as soon as possible, or that you want to take some holiday during your notice period. Talk to your line manager and if you are able to reach an agreement, get it in writing, and you will not be in breach of your contract of employment.

Your employer does not have to grant you a shorter notice period, however, and if it is likely to be detrimental to the business – if they will struggle to manage workload or they will incur financial losses – they will not agree. Should you then leave early, you would be in breach of contract and they could choose to pursue legal action against you. If you think they might say no, consider seeking advice from expert employment solicitors before you start the negotiations to give you the best chance of gaining agreement.

Can I use my holiday entitlement to leave sooner?

You will probably have a holiday entitlement if you are a permanent employee, though most businesses will expect that leave to be taken at a time convenient to them. Holiday normally has to be authorised by a manager and depending on the business needs there might be peak times when holiday is not allowed.

If the employer agrees, then you might be able to take holiday as a way of leaving sooner. If you don’t take holiday during your notice period, and you do have some accrued, you should expect to be paid that allowance at the end of your employment.

Your employer might ask that you take your holiday during your notice period instead of being paid in lieu of holiday at the termination of your employment with them. Read through your contract to determine the position on this, and if anything is not clear, get in touch with some expert employment solicitors.

Can I work somewhere else while I’m serving my notice?

Possibly. As with so many questions, there is no definitive answer and if you are unsure, seek advice. The best place to start is with your contract. Some contracts state that you must not work for any other business during the period of employment with them without prior consent from the employer, others will say you must have written permission to do so.

Your new employer may ask you if you can start sooner than your agreed notice period, and you might be able to use holiday from your existing contract to release you to start with your new employer sooner. Be open with all parties when you negotiate, and be clear what your contract states so you are not in breach.

If you are leaving your job to work for a competitor, your employer may choose to react differently. Furthermore, you may have post-termination restrictions included within your contract which prevents you from working for a competitor within a geographical area and for a specified duration of time.  It is better to be honest from the outset if this is the case, and you should state if you are going to a competitor when you resign.

Your employer might take action against you if they perceive that their business interests are at risk because of action you are taking, e.g. going to work for a competitor or supplier, if there is a chance you might disclose sensitive or confidential information. This could see them take out an injunction against you, or investigate other legal options. This is likely to be stressful for you as an individual, therefore it would be best interest to research early and understand your position.

Will I be paid during my notice period?

Yes. You should be paid your normal rate of pay as stated in your contract of employment during your notice period. This should also include any benefits that you have been entitled to during the course of your employment.

What can my boss do if I choose not to work my notice period?

Your boss cannot physically stop you from leaving the premises, but if there is that sort of animosity when you leave, they are less likely to let things lie. Depending on the circumstances of your resignation, the thought of staying another moment might be too much, but if you do just walk out, you are likely to be in breach of your contract. The worst-case scenario then is that the company could decide to sue you and take you to court.

Will my employer sue me if I don’t work my notice period?

If you walk out of your job and you are in breach of your employment contract, in theory, you could be sued. Your former employer will not necessarily choose to pursue that route because it can be very time consuming, and and costly but it is an option open to them. The likelihood of a business taking you to court depends on the circumstances, driven by your position within the business, factors around your new employment, and the potential financial risk directly or through contacts and your knowledge and experience that could leave with you.

To bring the case against you your former company would need to prove that your departure causes financial loss to the business. However, they might not be looking for damages. The cost of them taking legal action might be too great compared to what they would stand to gain, so they might also look for an injunction, which could prevent you working elsewhere until the end of your notice period has passed, or potentially longer. Check your contract for any clauses that might refer to working with competitor businesses should you leave.

If there is little impact from your departure they are more likely to let it pass. Your position, and where you are headed will have an influence on the action taken.

We understand that it can be a very difficult and stressful time when you decide to leave your job, particularly if you have been unhappy for some time. Leaving your position without serving your notice might be risky, therefore do seek legal advice from expert employment solicitors. Our experienced, knowledgeable team is on hand to talk you through your options before you commit.

Get in touch if you have any queries about leaving your job, whether or not you’ve already resigned. We’re ready to help however we can. And if you’re already looking at legal action, we’re here to support you through it. Get in touch.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.