All about notice periods in the US

All about notice periods in the US

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 7, 2022

Feeling burnt out or unappreciated at your job? Or maybe you’re ready to take the plunge into remote work, and explore the digital nomad lifestyle? Are you lacking the right vocabulary to say it in English? Whatever the reason may be for reading this article now, chances are you’re ready for a change. And, to do so, you need the right information to make this transition a smooth process. So, let’s explore everything you need to know about employment contract notice periods in America, laws surrounding this situation, and how to inform your employer about your plans. 

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Employment contract notice periods in the US

Generally speaking, the US doesn’t enforce a specific notice period nor is there an average notice period. However, some specific states or jobs might be exceptions to this so to clarify these misconceptions.

Important vocabulary related to notice periods

Before we jump into the legal aspects of notice periods, I’ve listed some business English words and phrases you can get familiar with to ensure you understand the process:

  • Notice period: the length of time either you or your employer are required to give notice about the termination of your employment contract
  • Dismiss: when an employer ends an employment contract
  • Resign: when an employee decides to leave a job or position
  • Terminate: to end (a contract)
  • COBRA: health care that is offered during the gap of leaving one job to find another
  • At-will employment: an employer can dismiss an employee, just like an employee can leave a job position at any time for any reason (aside from illegal reasons) without any negative consequences.

Phrases to use to resign from your job

In addition to the above vocabulary words, you don’t want to burn any bridges, or to act unpleasantly in a situation that you’re leaving. Why? Well, because in case your next job doesn’t work out, it would be easier to go back to your previous job if you have a good relationship with your boss.

With that said, here are some professional phrases you might consider using when you’re ready to tell your boss you quit:

How to say “I quit” professionally:

  • Next Friday is my last day of working and I’m happy to finish up everything necessary before then.
  • I’m putting in my two-week notice, but I greatly appreciate my time working here.
  • I shouldn’t pass up this other opportunity.
  • Thank you for all the growth, but I’m taking a break from this job.

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Is there a law that stipulates notice periods?

The Department of Labor in the US protects employees in the areas of wages, workplace safety, employee benefits security, workers’ compensation, and others, but it does not stipulate that notice periods are legally required for employment contracts.

Nonetheless, it’s cordial in the US to allow employees at least two weeks after their resignation in advance as a notice period to allow them time to fill the position and delegate tasks. For example, when my colleague quit her 3rd-grade teaching position, she gave her boss a year’s notice, because that’s how much time she needed to make a transition to becoming a digital nomad and entrepreneur. With that said, that doesn’t mean that’s a suitable notice period for every particular job, but make sure to consider all angles and remain professional when making your decision to resign.

How to determine if you have a notice period

Although it’s uncommon that notice periods are required for work contracts in the US, there can be some circumstances where they are still applied if they have been agreed upon in advance.

Check your contract

You most likely signed a contract at the beginning of your employment period. Dust it off, and use it as a guide moving forward to help you with your specific situation. It’s also helpful to contact your human resources department if you would like further clarification about the process outlined in your contract. Furthermore, please note that if you work under the conditions of “at-will employment”, no notice period applies for both the employer and employee.

Pro Tip: At this stage, inquire about COBRA healthcare, which will fill in the gap between the time you’ve quit your current job until the time you’re situated in your next position, which helps reduce stress during an already chaotic time.

Consider your seniority in the company

The other element to consider for notice periods is your seniority. In general, the longer you’ve been at a job, the longer notice you should provide. Think about it like this: the more expertise you have, the harder it is to replace you, so to be considerate of your boss (especially if you know the hiring process is long) and think about giving at least 2 weeks notice.

How can you inform your employer about your resignation?

What if your boyfriend or girlfriend came up to you and just blurted out: 

“We’re over!”

You’d be like, “wait, what!? Why?”

All humans are the same: they want an explanation. Bosses especially understand that everyone grows, and we’re not required to be bound to any one job or position for our entire life. 

With that said, you should still create a formal letter of resignation as proof of the date you resigned.

Make sure to include:

  • Your boss’ full name
  • Today’s date
  • Your notice period time frame
  • The date when you’ll officially resign
  • A statement of how the company helped you grow, or what you are most grateful for from your position
  • Signature

In addition to giving a written form to your supervisor, it would be helpful for your team to be informed about your plans too. This way, they have time to make necessary adjustments. 

Again, leaving your position with grace might open up networking opportunities, or provide you with helpful recommendation letters, so be sure to put some thought into your letter of resignation.

What happens when a contract is terminated due to employee misconduct?

An employer has the right to dismiss an employee due to misconduct, but the dismissal shouldn’t happen without proof. An employer should refrain from dismissing anyone on the spot, as that’s most likely an act of anger and can result in legal issues. 

If a dismissal situation gets ugly and either party conducts themselves in a manner that does not abide by the contract, this could end up in court.

In this case, double-check your contract to ensure if and which agreed-upon statements were broken, and that both parties signed the contract. If worse comes to worst, seek legal counsel if you feel you’ve been taken advantage of in the situation.

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