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How Much Notice Should You Give Your Boss When You Quit?

Is quitting without giving your boss notice unethical?

Q. I work at a small, lightly staffed company. Everyone is crucial to our success, which is precarious at times. One of our key colleagues just quit with no advance notice to our boss, who is a very fair employer. Our departing colleague said her new employer wanted her to start ASAP. I think this was shabby of her. What do you think?

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A. I’m with you on this, given the facts of the case. Her abrupt resignation was inconsiderate, leaving your boss scrambling to fill a vacancy and probably putting a burden on her former colleagues to pick up the slack.

She owed all of you (probably not legally, but ethically) at least two weeks’ notice, and ideally more. In most cases, a new employer will understand, and even respect, a new hire’s desire to do right by her current colleagues. And a more thoughtful resignation might have improved her odds of getting a good reference from your boss if she ever needed one.

It sounds as if your firm still honors the traditional “social compact” between employer and staff, under which everyone works in an environment of consideration and trust. I’ll bet that if your boss needed to terminate an employee for business purposes (not poor performance), that employee would be given enough notice to find another job, plus either generous severance or the flexibility to continue working there while looking.

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Sadly, this spirit of trust is long gone at many companies, especially big firms. Too many employers terminate staff abruptly and coldly, escorting them from the office, depriving them of collegial farewells—sometimes even assuming they will try to sabotage the company. And some bosses, when given notice that an employee will be voluntarily resigning in a few weeks, will angrily tell that person to clear out immediately.

At a company like that, I can understand why some workers might believe it’s perfectly all right not to give any advance notice—and some employment experts would agree. The workers are just acting defensively.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

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