Notice periods: The complete guide

6 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

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.

Whether you want to know what a notice period is and how you hand in your notice, or what happens when you call in sick during your notice period, we have the answers.

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 statutory notice if you have been employed by the firm continuously for more than one month but less than two years.
  • One week for every year worked if you have been employed for between two and 12 years. For example, if you worked for a company for five years and 11 months, you would be entitled to a statutory notice period of five weeks.
  • 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.

For senior employees, a company may ask for three months' notice which is done to give them enough time to fill the position if the member of staff was to leave.

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.

Your letter of resignation should:

  • Your name.
  • The date.
  • The position you are resigning from.
  • Appropriately addressed (to your line manager, for example).
  • When your notice will end/your last day.
  • Your signature.

You can also explain reasons for leaving the role, but aren't obliged to do this. This might be something along the lines of 'I am taking on a new challenge' or 'I have been offered a new position with better career progression'.

It is important to remain as professional as possible. With this in mind, you could thank your employer for the opportunities you have been given. Again, you don't need to do this but people often do to remain polite and amicable with their employer.

Can I refuse to work my 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. You are essentially getting paid instead of working your notice period.

In addition, some employees may be put on gardening leave, which means you are paid until the end of your notice period but do not have to come to work for that time.

Is a notice period legally binding?

A notice period is legally binding and there is a legal requirement to provide notice. Failing to do this could result in a breach of contract and could provide either the employer or employee (whichever is the 'innocent' party) with a case to start legal proceedings.

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.

What happens if you call in sick during your notice period?

Calling in sick during a notice period is sometimes a tactic the avoid working but for those that are genuinely poorly, they may be wondering what could happen if they ring up their employer.

You can call in sick and don't need to provide a sick note until seven days have passed. But after that you will need to provide one and failure to do so might mean that the absence is unpaid.

Essentially, the normal sick pay entitlements as per your contract will still stand. An employer cannot extend your notice period because of the time you have been off do your agreed final day will not change.

Your contract should outline your rate of pay when it comes to sick leave, alternatively you might be entitled to statutory sick pay (or SSP) which is paid for up to 28 weeks of absence at a maximum rate of £99.35 per week.

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.

Working for another company during your notice period

You should not start working for a new employer before the current employment has ended. It is illegal to begin working for a new company at the same time as you are working for your current one.

The best thing to do in this situation would be to speak to your current employer, explaining that you are still in your notice period but have been offered an opportunity that you don't want to miss out on. This might also be a conversation to have when you hand in your notice, if you have accepted a new role but they really want you to start earlier than your notice period would allow you.

If things are ending harmoniously, an employer might reduce the notice period.

Can I quit without notice during my probation period?

If you have taken on a new role and decided that it is not a good fit, you should first of all check the terms of your contract to see what it says about handing in your notice during your probation period.

If your contract does not mention notice periods and you have been in the role for less than one month, you are not obliged to give notice during probation.

It is always worth a discussion with your employer or HR department before leaving without notice. It can sometimes end up being a mutual decision, after all the probation period is about making sure the position is a good fit for both parties.

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.

If you have any other questions about what to do during your notice period, then contact us.