Human Resources News & Insights

Answers to tricky HR questions: Handling resignations

Our team of experts fields real-life everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s question: What’s the best approach when it looks like an employee is going to resign to go to work for another company?

We’ve heard strong rumors that one of our employees is getting ready to resign to go to work for another company. So, what’s the best approach to take if the employee offers a resignation?

In the past, we’ve let most employees work out their last two weeks after they’ve offered the resignation, but we’re not sure that’s the right course of action.

What is the best approach?

It depends on a number of factors, according to HR pro Susan Heathfield. But you generally can make the decision by answering some questions about the circumstances:

Consider letting the employee work the two weeks if —

  • the staffing need demands it, and
  • the employee is leaving on good terms

Consider letting the employee go immediately if —

  • the “next job” is with a competitor
  • the manager involved suspects the employee won’t accomplish much by staying, or
  • the employee has a history of problems with performance or conduct
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  1. Tere Bettis says:

    When business needs allow, I always let the employee go immediately and pay them for the two weeks notice. As stated in the article, most employee’s won’t accomplish much by staying around for two additional weeks.

  2. Patricia says:

    I agree with the above answers and we make our decision based on those same factors. If you do choose to end employment immediately and do not pay the employee for the period between notification and the last day (usually two weeks), be prepared to pay unemployment benefits to the employee for that same period of time. We just experienced this situation and that Iowa Workforce determined he should receive unemployment benefits even though he quit.

  3. Thanks Patricia, you answered my question before I even asked it regarding letting them go early.
    Tere also had a good point…I have found that while the two weeks should be used to tie up any loose ends it’s usually an attitude of “Im only here another two weeks what are they gonna do..Fire me?”
    When I have resigned I have always given at least 1 month notice and then brief my manager on everything that I am working on and what is ongoing etc.

  4. Fed Up With Feds says:

    This is good practice….I like to get them out the door faster if practical, just on the outside chance they could begin poisoning the well or recruiting friends out with them. I hope our culture never hits that low, but I’ve seen organizations suffer that and it’s not pretty.

  5. If staffing allows, I almost always let them go upon their resignation with two weeks pay. I find that many employees, once they’ve given their notice, have already checked out mentally. At that point, they’re just a warm body showing up for a paycheck and biding their time.

    Wow, I sound cynical.

  6. Tere Bettis says:

    I’m not sure we are cynical…just experienced! :0)

  7. Fed Up With Feds says:

    I’d say we’re battle-tested!

  8. Andrea Kruger, SPHR says:

    If unemployment is a concern, some states might construe letting an employee go prior to the end of the two notice period as a discharge, hence qualifying them for unemployment insurance, (I learned this the hard way). In addition an employee could qualify for unemployment in the event that they wanted to rescind their resignation and the employer denied the request. Many employee handbooks ask for a two week notice period, so to avoid an employee becoming disgruntled it might be smart to pay the two week in lieu of notice. Be consistent in your exiting procedures with all employees that resign to help avoid legal issues down the road.

  9. Mark W. says:

    I left a job last October, and probably worked more hours and harder during those final 2 weeks than any other time during my 12-year tenure. If you’re talking about an hourly employee in manufacturing, that’s one thing. If, however, the employee is salaried and/or a long-term employee, two weeks is barely enough time to pass off work in progress, clean up electronic and paper files, meet with co-workers to pass on information, and so on. I was at work until 1am on my last day…

  10. Sara B. says:

    One other thing to consider is the message you send to other employees when you do not allow notice to be worked. At my current company, previous practice was to immediately show them out (for nearly all positions) following resignation. Generally, they wouldn’t even be allowed back to their workstations. The negative result was two-fold. One, we had people basically “disappearing.” In hindsight, it makes me think of the TV show “The Sopranos” and their explanation of “witness protection” when someone went missing. Our policy had exactly the same unsettling, unfinished impact on the rest of the team and just left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    The result was a lack of closure for both their co-workers and our clients, and the manager often found him/herself with absolutely no knowledge of where the EE was with regard to any project. Secondly, employees knew about this and began to accept other positions, but give notice on the day before they had to start at the new job. It meant that even if we wanted their help to tranisition, it wasn’t possible.

    We’ve started accepting notice and allowing them to work it out (unless there are serious existing performance deficiencies), and the enviornment has become much more open and far less tense with regard to resignations. Since we’ve changed our practices, we’ve also noticed that it’s easier to get the good EEs back at a later date, since they walk away still feeling valued/appreciated and are heading out on good terms.

  11. If the employees put in their two week notice and we let them go that same day, aren’t we required by law to pay for the 2 weeks ?

  12. Yeah, Sara! If the reason for giving notice is to arrange for a good transition and enable the company to get a start on a replacement, then the employee should be allowed to work it. Looks good to other employees as well. If for some reason, perhaps performance or negative aura, I don’t want them to stay, I always pay for the notice period.

  13. Andrea Kruger, SPHR says:


    You are not required to pay the two week notice, but if your handbook ask employees to give two weeks, then the unemployment department may consture it to be a discharge vs a resignation, making unemployment insurance available to them.

  14. Andrea is correct, in our State if you let an employee go in the manner that is being discussed it is a dismissal and they are eligible for unemployment benefits. I have been in the industry long enough to see the positive and negitive aspects to this issue as it is being discussed- the best advise is to keep your decision making uniform and if for some business reason you must do something outside of your normal practice notate the reasons why for that indivudal incident.

  15. I have seen this take place a couple of ways: Director level person resigns and stays around for a while and his resignation took place only after receiving a sizeable bonus and pulling his next in command with him. Manager level is forced to resign and is immediately locked out of the computer system and not allowed to even say goodbye to any fellow employees. Everyone is confused and does not know what happened. It does go to show that anyone can be replaced and the company will go on no matter how valuable someone appears to the operation. I believe there should be clear procedures in place for when and how to process the various types of separation. If not you end up causing confusion and raising suspicion levels of the remaining employees.

  16. I’m w/Mark W. When I resigned, I worked harder and with just as much tenacity, commitment, willingness to do whatever I could to transition smoothly. It would never occur to me to not continue to work to the best of my abilities and leave with the highest degree of professionalism and respect. And while I am “cynical” and “experienced” as the rest I don’t subscribe to the theory that most employees are “slackers” on their last 2 weeks (and I am not naive either).

  17. Just wanted to make a comment even though this article has been out for some months. We are a small agency that works with children in crisis so we request a three week notice (more if we can get it) and want the leaving employee to work those last weeks. This allows us to transition the children/families to another staff member and allows the employee to wrap up. We are required by the state to provide huge amounts of documemtation so the leaving employee has to complete that as well as update his/her manager on all their cases.

    The only time we had someone leave right away was when it was a termination for cause. This only has happened once and even though I believe it was the right thing to do it still upset our remaining staff members.

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