Dealing with employee resignations is something that virtually all businesses, managers, and HR teams will face at some stage. However, it can be increasingly stressful when a worker wants to quit with immediate effect. It may leave you wondering “can an employee refuse to work their notice period?” or questioning what options are available to you as an employer.

This quick guide will answer all of your questions such as; “can an employee refuse to work their notice period?” and “what to do if an employee refuses to work their notice period?”. With the support of Premier Legal on your side, this situation needn’t disrupt the company’s progress.

How Much Notice Should an Employee Give?

First and foremost, you need to familiarise yourself with the statutory notice period as detailed by UK employment law. As an employer, you should be aware of the following worker notice period guidelines;

  • If a worker has worked less than one month, they do not have to give any notice.
  • When an employer has worked between one month and two years, they must provide one week’s notice.
  • If the worker has worked for two years, they must provide a notice period of two weeks.
  • For each additional year of employment, the worker must give an extra week’s notice – up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

In addition to the statutory notice periods detailed above, workers may have agreed to an extended notice period set within their employment contract. This can be provided as a part of your professional HR support services. In this instance, a one-month obligation is the most commonly stipulated time frame.

So, Can an Employee Refuse to Work Their Notice Period?

Ultimately, you cannot force a worker to turn up to work. Nevertheless, a worker that refuses to work out the notice period (whichever is longer between statutory or contractual notice) will be in breach of their contract and won’t be entitled to be paid. In most situations, then, it will be in their best interest to work their notice period – or at least work with you to reach an agreeable outcome.

Nevertheless, you cannot force the worker to fulfil their obligation. Given the impact of the great resignation, employers should be prepared for the worst. So, when can an employee refuse to work their notice period? Firstly, they can leave without serving the notice period if you have breached the contract as an employer.

Alternatively, they may simply refuse to turn up for several reasons. The most common situations are;

  • An employee has decided to emigrate or relocate to another part of the country,
  • The worker has decided to go full-time with their own business,
  • Another company has offered them a job with an immediate start date.

Whatever the reason for an employee refusing to work their notice, you do technically have the option to pursue legal action to make them pay for damages to the company. However, this can require a significant investment of time and money while it may also be difficult to prove those damages. Where an employee has left to join a competitor and is in breach of post termination restrictions you should seek advice without delay.  There are remedies available where an employee acts in breach of their contract and causes loss to your business.

How to Encourage an Employee to Work Their Notice

In some cases, it might just be better to accept that the worker wants to leave with immediate effect. Perhaps they feel let down by the company after a disagreement with a colleague or something has happened in their personal life. If you can replace the employee with ease or feel that they underperformed anyway, it might just be better to let them leave.

If this is the answer, though, you will need to confirm that the contract has ended in writing. When they sign this agreement, it puts an end to their contractual rights and will prevent them from starting an unfair dismissal case. Sadly, this is something that dishonest ex-workers may attempt.

When you would ideally like the employee to stay – so that you have time to prepare and find a replacement, thus avoiding disruption to the business operations – you can try the following tactics;

  • Ask why they feel there is a rush to quit their contract,
  • Remind them that working the last weeks will boost their final pay packet,
  • Remind them that they are technically in breach of their contract,
  • Explain that you would appreciate them working their notice.

Should this fail to work, you can always pursue other solutions like gardening leave. Either way, there is little point in getting upset or angry as an employer. The best response is to focus on finding the right replacement. This will enable the company to handle a smooth transition.

If you need help with dismissals, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our employment law experts who will be happy to help.