Your top employees are integral to your business’s success. So what happens when one of them resigns? Here’s a guide to making the transition as smooth as possible

Typically when an employee resigns they need to give at least 1 weeks notice. This is called a statutory notice period. Staff are required to give a one week notice period if they have been working in your employment for one month or longer. Alternatively, you may have outlined in your employment contract a ‘custom’ notice period of longer than one week. This can be much longer than a week, lasting up to several weeks and is known as a contractual notice period. For this reason, it is important to clearly outline in your contract terms the notice period that suits your business needs.

Steps To Take When An Employee Unexpectedly Resigns

An unexpected resignation

When a member of staff quits without working their applicable notice period this constitutes a breach of contract. This situation will almost always create frustration and added tensions within your business but ultimately you can’t physically force an employee to show up to work.

Your reaction to someone you employee leaving without working their correct statutory or contractual notice period should be dependent on the impact that this had on your business.

  • Know the company policy on whether or not a counter offer could be an option, when appropriate. If it is an option and is appropriate for the situation, take steps to put that offer in place. Note, however, that if the employee is not giving notice, there is less likelihood that a counter offer will be useful, but assess the situation first.
  • Reassure other employees who worked closely with the individual. There will likely be some trepidation at the news that the team has suddenly changed. Explain to the other team members what will happen next so they know what to expect and know not to worry.
  • Try to assess why the employee did not give notice. It could be as simple as a new opportunity came along that could not wait. However, it could also be specific to the position he or she was leaving; perhaps the work environment was so bad, the employee did not want to spend another day working there. The key here is to assess whether there are things you can change that will reduce the likelihood that this will happen again.
  • Resist the temptation to be vindictive in any way. When an employee leaves with no notice, it can put everyone in a tough spot. HR has to drop everything and finalize all tasks related to the employee leaving. The hiring team has to find a replacement immediately, in many cases. The rest of the team usually has to pick up the slack in the meantime. As such, it can be frustrating—and tempting to try to retaliate somehow. But it’s not a good idea. Some forms of retaliation, like attempting to withhold the final paycheck, are even illegal. And most other forms of retaliation are simply unprofessional and won’t change anything for the better

Notice pay & final pay

A breach of contract of this type can affect the amount of notice pay and final salary which you ultimately pay out.

Despite the manner in which the member of staff left you will still need to pay them for any part of their notice period that they did in fact work. You might also have to pay the person in question for any part of their notice period that they were willing to work if you declined for them to do so.

If the member of staff quits without working the required notice period then you can deduct money from their final salary if you have included in your contract of employment a specific clause regarding this circumstance. In this eventuality, you can also cover the amounts which are equal to any costs which were incurred by the employee not working the full notice period.

Calculate costs incurred for covering the member of staff’s work by paying overtime or temporary staff and then subtract that from savings made from not paying the employee.

If you don’t have a specific clause in your contract that covers your costs for a member of staff not working their notice you can’t take the costs out of their final pay. However, you can pursue these additional costs through the courts.


You may be very tempted to write a bad reference in retaliation to the person who is resigning and has left your business in the lurch. Under the Data Protection Act your former employee may be able to obtain a copy of this reference and should the reference you wrote contain inaccuracies and results in a job offer falling through they may choose to take the claim to a tribunal.

To avoid the risk of a tribunal you should only write accurate information in the reference which is true and fair. You are allowed to state in the reference that the employee left without working their full notice period if that is the case.