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Notice periods: The complete guide

by Sellick Partnership | 15 December 2020

The term ‘notice period’ will be familiar to anyone who has had to leave a job or look for a new role while already employed. However, no matter how often individuals have been through the resignation process, there are still some aspects of giving notice that can be confusing for employees. 
 
In this article, we will answer the most common questions that our Consultants receive from the candidates with whom we work, to ensure you know everything you need to know about notice periods. 
 

What is a ‘notice period’?

A notice period is the amount of warning you are required to give your employer before leaving your employment, and, equally, the amount of warning the employer must give you before terminating your contract. 
 
Notice periods are designed to minimise disruption for both the company and the individual — by giving each party sufficient time to either find a replacement, if necessary, or find a new role. 
How much notice do I need to give?
There are two kinds of notice period: statutory and contractual. 
 
The term ‘statutory’ refers to the minimum notice period required by law before a contract of employment can be terminated. According to the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees must give at least the following notice: 
 
  • One week if you have been employed by the firm continuously for one month or more but less than two years.
  • One week for every year worked if you have been employed for between two and 12 years.
  • 12 weeks if you have been employed continuously for 12 years or more.
The notice periods listed above are the legal minimum that must be given by an employee. However, while employers cannot demand employees give less than the statutory notice, they can expect them to give more. This is what is known as contractual notice. 
 
Companies often state in their own terms of employment — written into their contracts — that employees must give more than the minimum amount of notice. One month is popular among many employers, with the period often rising the more senior you are in the business. 
 
Check your contract to make sure you understand your own terms of employment and notice periods. 
 

How to hand in your notice

You should submit your resignation in writing by preparing and submitting a dated letter or email to your employer informing them of your decision to leave, and the date on which you will terminate your employment. 
 
You do not have to submit your resignation in writing, but it is best practice to do so, as it avoids any confusion or misunderstanding later down the line. 
 
Some employees have a meeting with their managers before formally submitting their notice, while others do it the other way around. However, in the vast majority of cases, there will be a face-to-face meeting with a senior member of staff at some point to discuss your reasons for leaving and put a plan in place to organise your work during your notice period. 
 

Do you have to work your notice period?

Unless your employer states otherwise when you resign, you should work as normal until the end of your employment to avoid breaching your employment contract. 
 
If you decide not to work your notice period as stated in your contract, the employer could feasibly sue you for damages that the business would suffer as a result of you not working your full notice.
 
However, that is normally a very last resort — employers might instead agree to let you leave early and terminate the contract with immediate effect, or reduce the notice period, but this would mean not getting paid once you have left. 
 
Equally, some employees may have a ‘pay in lieu of notice’ clause, which means their employment will end immediately but they will be paid by the employer for the period set out in their notice. 
 
In addition, some employees may be put on garden leave, which means you are paid until the end of your notice period but do not have to come to work for that time.
 

Do I get paid during my notice period?

Yes, your employer has an obligation to pay you your normal full pay during your notice period.  
 

Can I take holiday during my notice period?

Yes, your employment terms will remain the same during your notice period and you will receive your normal full pay for annual leave taken. 
 

Can I change my mind?

If you have resigned but have changed your mind, you should speak to your employer immediately to see if they are open to keeping you employed and retracting your resignation. It is also recommended that you write a retraction letter once your employment terms have been discussed and — if possible, agreed, so that your intentions and agreement are recorded in writing. 
 
Your employer may not agree to your retraction, however, which will mean you having to work your notice and end your employment.