What can I do about my long notice period?
A long notice period could be seen as a way of tying you in to your company and will have been outlined in your original terms of employment. However, you should remember that it is also an advantage in times of uncertainty and offers a degree of security.
Any notice period will be determined either by law or by the terms of the contract with your employer, but it can be varied in some circumstances. In most cases where you want to leave and the notice period is a problem; talking through the situation with your employer is the very first step. There may be a way forward to benefit both parties.
One of the most common and least painful ways of reducing your notice period is simply to ask to offset it against any outstanding leave. For example, if you have two weeks holiday outstanding and your employer is willing, you may be able to use it to reduce your notice period – and still get paid.
Contractual and statutory notice periods
Your notice period must be included in a written statement of employment particulars and made available within two months of you starting work. There are minimum legal notice periods to be given by any employer in your contract. However, an employer can include longer periods of notice in the employment contract to which you will have agreed at the outset.
Your notice period, however long, may be varied, reduced or waived altogether by either side under a number of circumstances.
Here are some of the most common:
- Breach of contract – You can terminate your contract of employment without notice if your employer has in some way fundamentally breached their contract with you.
- Right to waiver – You and your employer can both waive your right to notice by mutual consent and agreement.
- Summary dismissal – Similarly, you can be dismissed without notice for gross misconduct. However, unless there is a proper investigation and a fair hearing, an employment tribunal might find that the dismissal was unfair.
- Pay instead of notice – If your employer is willing you can choose to receive pay instead of notice. This will be a breach of contract unless the contract expressly provides for it.
- Counter-notice – If you have been given notice of dismissal you can give counter-notice to leave at an earlier date than the one on which your employer's notice period ends.
Once you or your employer gives notice, it cannot be withdrawn unless both parties agree, so you need to clarify your notice period before you decide to resign. Generally, if on any aspect of your decision to leave you are being denied your rights, talk to your employer first. If you have an employee representative (e.g. a trade union official), they may be able to help. If this doesn't work, you may need to make a complaint using your employer's internal grievance procedure.
Compromise – the best way forward
If you want to leave on good terms – and earlier than your notice period – then you are probably looking to achieve some sort of compromise agreement. A compromise agreement is a single agreement setting out the financial and other terms on which the employment relationship will end.
In order for the compromise agreement to be valid, certain formalities must be fulfilled. This is usually to prevent you, the employee, from subsequently making a claim in the courts or at an employment tribunal. However, compromise agreements can be useful in circumstances where the employer wishes to avoid the publicity, costs or uncertain outcome of a tribunal or court case.
Refusing to let you go easily or holding you to an unreasonably long notice period may reflect badly on their company should it become public knowledge. There is every chance that any company would be unwilling to allow this publicity to deter future employees who will inevitably replace you.