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Can employers require employees to give notice?

Businesses face a wide range of challenges, but few are more complicated on a professional and interpersonal level than handling the departure of an employee. Like many states, California is an employment at will state, which means that the employee can leave at any time for any lawful reason, with or without notice.

However, employers may want to keep an employee around to assist in the training of their replacement, finish up or reassign important work, or at least give them time to hire someone. While two weeks is the standard, companies often request executives or key employees with unique skills a longer notice, particularly if there is going to be a lengthy search process. Employers need to be careful about these requests because it may be interpreted to mean that there is a guaranteed right to work for that extended period.

Offer incentives to cooperate

Some incentives can keep the departing employee happy during this lame-duck period. Employers can offer a severance package, discretionary bonus or some other arrangement. California is required to pay for accrued vacation or PTO in the final paycheck. Another option would be to stipulate rehire eligibility based on the circumstances of their departure. It is critical to make sure that this is clearly outlined in the handbook and employment contract. Whatever the arrangement, it is not legal to dock employees’ pay or hold checks.

Employment contracts

It is standard for executives to sign an employment contract that covers how they are to exit, confidentiality clauses or other issues. Even with a signed contract, the employee can still legally quit immediately and walk out. It should be added, that it is a mistake trying to force someone to work for the company against their will. Not only is it very unlikely to hold up in court, it can create poisonous atmosphere for remaining employees.

Other employees are watching

How a departure is handled is an opportunity for management or owners to show leadership. Treating departing employees with respect will make those who stay feel better about their work environment. Be fair and honest and follow the guidelines set forth in the company’s policies. It is also a good idea to have an attorney review the handbook and contracts to ensure that your company is compliant with all current laws and protected in case there is a dispute.