January 17, 2012

What Do You Do About an Employee That Has Given Notice?

By Paul Bieber

Susie, your bookkeeper of 11 years, walks into your office and tells you that she will be leaving at the end of the following month. She has decided to move closer to her aging parents. You loved having Susie work with you and she has always done a great job. But, what do you do now? You are grateful she has given you a long notice allowing for a replacement search, but you are worried about her being a lame duck.

If you knew Susie, like I knew Susie, you wouldn’t be worried. I know she will be a great employee up to the last minute.

But what about the employee who gives a proper notice, leaving to join a competitor? Or doesn’t tell you why they are leaving or where they are going? If you have covered this in your employee manual, then follow the procedures you have created. My recommendation is that your manual state:

  • Employees are expected to give two weeks notice of their intent to leave. Failure to give this notice will impact future references and may result in forfeiture of accrued vacation. In rare instances, the company may not accept the two week notice and ask employees to leave immediately. These instances include, but are not limited to, leaving to work for a competitor, leaving after an event that leads to the employee’s arrest, or other events as management may decide.

I mentioned withholding accrued vacation. In many states this is OK. Check with your local attorney. Vacation is a benefit, unlike retirement account payments or social security benefits, which are regulated. You can never withhold salary or wages, under any circumstance. When giving a reference, one of the more damning things is to say that an employee failed to give proper notice.

What if you have no policy or handbook? Then you should act based on prior occurrences when circumstances are similar. The next thought is: How will this play out in your current workforce? If you make it hard on a departing employee, will your current employees be happy that you protected the company, or will they be upset that a co-worker was mistreated. Will the same thing happen to them? If they think so, you will not receive notice from anyone.

If an employee gives their two week notice because of going to a competitor, do you have to pay them the two weeks, or can you just show them the door? There are no regulations concerning this. It is up to your personal feelings. Here’s what I have done. If the employee has been a good employee and is honestly trying to improve their life by going to another glass company, I would pay them the two weeks, but have them leave the company now. If the employee was a rabble rouser, always in trouble, always arrived late, then I would just show them the door.

If you pay an employee the two weeks, even though they are going to a competitor, that employee will tell his new co-workers that you are an OK guy. Maybe that will help you recruit others. And maybe, the grass won’t be greener at the new job and the employee wants to come back to you. If you would rehire him, then pay the two weeks now as an insurance that the employee might come back home.

Your goal is to protect your company and your current work force. If your loyal employees see you booting out a ‘good person’ you will lose their respect. They will know who the rotten apples are and will applaud you for taking a tough stance in that case.

In another blog, we will discuss the situation of an employee giving a long notice, for instance a retirement, and keeping them motivated for the last couple of months.

For those of us in the North, stay warm. For those of you in the South, I am jealous.