Notice periods explained in the UK, the US, and Germany

Notice periods explained in the UK, the US, and Germany

by Erin McGann

Updated November 7, 2022

When you’re looking for a job in a new country, you might not be up to speed with all the different employment laws yet. One thing to note is the very different approach to leaving one job and starting another across the UK, the US, and Germany.

What does ‘to give notice’ mean?

This is the process of leaving, or quitting, a job. Generally, if you are leaving a place of employment, after a conversation with your direct manager, you need to provide an official letter which notes when you are informing the company of your desire to leave, and when your last day will be. The amount of time you have to legally give your employer before you leave is different in different countries, and across different types of employment (contract, casual, etc). The notice period is meant to give your employer time to find a replacement for you.

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Notice periods in the UK

In the United Kingdom, if you have a permanent job, both you and your employer need to provide at least one week’s notice if you want to leave your job or if your employer wants you to leave your position, if you have been working there between one month and two years. For every year after that, you need to add another week to your notice period until 12 years, and then it’s just 12 weeks notice no matter how much longer you’ve worked there. Employers might give you more time if you’ve been ‘made redundant’, which means they have eliminated your job position altogether, depending on the situation.

There are types of work situations that these notice periods don’t apply to, like zero-hour contracts where an employer hasn’t specified for how many hours have work they will employ the person. 

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Notice periods in the US

The vast majority of positions offered in the United States are considered ‘at-will’ employment. This means neither the employer nor the employee have to give any notice for ending the work relationship. Unfortunately, this means there is no legally binding notice period required. However, it is generally the practise to provide your employer with at least two weeks’ notice before leaving a job, and sometimes an employer will give more notice if your job is being eliminated – in the US this is called being ‘laid off’ – although they are not required to do this. 

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Notice periods in Germany

In Germany, if you have a permanent position, there are very detailed rules about notice periods. As an employee, you must give your employer four weeks’ notice from the 15th or the last day of the month, in writing. Employers have to give you a certain amount of notice depending on how long you have worked at the company. Up to two years, this is also four weeks from the 15th or the last day of the month. Though this can change from country to country – so check your contract!

From two to four years, the notice period is one month before the last day of the month, from five to seven years it’s two months, from eight to nine years it’s three months, from ten to 11 years it’s four month, from 12 to 14 years it’s five months, from 15 to 19 years it’s six months, and if you’ve worked somewhere for 20 years or longer the notice period is seven months. However it is worth reading your contract, because sometimes longer periods have been negotiated collectively. If you have a time-limited contract, the notice period will be detailed in your contract quite clearly as well. It is really important to give notice in writing or your notice is not valid, so double check the requirements for what you need to include in the letter for your employer, print it out and sign it before delivering it. 

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