Is it Illegal to Quit a Job without Notice & What Will Happen if You Do?

If the thought of working a notice period fills you with dread, or you’re simply unable to continue working for personal reasons, it’s important to understand what might happen next. Many workers worry that it might be illegal to quit a job without notice, and are worried about the consequences.

Some employers threaten that they will take an employee to court for not working their notice period, or say they will hold back wages. Understandably, this will cause a lot of worry.

So what legal position does leaving a job without notice put you in? The short answer is that quitting abruptly is not illegal, but it may put you in breach of your contract of employment. This means that in some situations, resigning with immediate effect can have negative consequences. However, these may not be as dire as you think.

Our guide will help you understand what may happen if you do resign without notice, and help you understand your rights, and how best to minimise stress.

Can You Quit a Job Without Notice?

Under UK employment law, employees are generally expected to provide their employers with notice of resignation.

However, an exception exists as per Section 86 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The act states:-

“The minimum notice required to be given by an employee who has been continuously employed for one month or more to terminate his contract of employment is not less than one week.”

Source: S86 Employment Rights Act (1996).

The implication of Section 86 of the ERA is that if you’ve been employed for less than one month, the statutory minimum notice period does not apply. This means you are permitted to leave your job without providing any notice.

However, this also means you are legally obligated to give a notice period to your employer when resigning.

Is Quitting Without Notice Illegal?

Quitting a job without notice is not illegal in the criminal sense, as it is a matter of civil law rather than criminal law. That means failing to give notice is not a breach of the law enforceable by the police, but rather a breach of your employment contract, and a failure to meet your legal responsibilities under the Employment Rights Act.

If an employer wishes to seek compensation for this breach, they would need to prove a financial loss attributable to the employee’s failure to provide notice.

Related: Notice period on probation.

Check Your Contract

First of all, you should check your employment contract to see what it says about notice periods. Perhaps this won’t be as long as you thought and you could manage to get through working the notice. Then you could move on to your next chapter stress free.

If your contract does not state a notice period, or you don’t have a contract, the longest notice you’re required to give is the statutory minimum notice of 1 week.

Reasons to Quit a Job without Notice

Here are some common reasons to quit a job with immediate effect. If you are leaving for one of these reasons, you should outline it in your letter of resignation.

  • Medical reasons or emergency.
  • Family reasons or emergency.
  • You have worked less than 1 month and have no contract.
  • You are on a temporary contract.
  • Due to feeling unsafe in the workplace.
  • Ethical or social issues that have escalated.
  • There have been lots of job losses which is affecting your situation

When you are resigning for a reason which you may later wish to look at raising as part of an unfair dismissal case, it’s important to document it.

If you’re resigning immediately for another reason which is outwith your control, letting your employer know will help them look on it sympathetically. You can outline your situation in a letter of resignation for personal reasons.

How to Approach Resigning

If you want to leave a job because of a stressful work environment it can feel overwhelming. If it is affecting your wellbeing then there are a few practical things you can try to navigate your exit.

Your best bet is to have an open and honest conversation with your employer. If this isn’t possible due to a broken down work relationship, then speak to HR or another manager.

Our guide on handing in your notice has a valuable overview of the resignation process.

Discuss Quitting Without Notice

You might find that your employer is open to letting you leave immediately. If things haven’t been going well, they may recognise there’s little value in continuing.

It may be that the atmosphere between everyone will be lightened by ending things prematurely. If they are open to this, it works out in everyone’s best interests.

Consider the Financial Implications of Resigning

Check what if any, financial support you may be entitled to before making any rash decisions. Sometimes, putting up with a tough week or two can be worth it to maintain financial security.

Would it be possible to work from home for your notice period? If this isn’t possible in your current position then perhaps you could be moved to a role that will allow you to work remotely.

What Happens if You Quit a Job Without Notice?

If you feel like there’s no alternative but to leave your job with immediate effect, it’s important to understand what can and will happen.

Breaching Your Employment Contract

It is a breach of contract to quit without notice. This is the case even if you do not have a contract in place.

The worst thing that could happen is that your employer takes you to court for breaching your contract. They would seek to recover the additional costs associated with you leaving without notice. This could include the cost of bringing in temporary employees to cover your postion.

However, whilst an employer has the right to pursue a legal case against you the majority of companies won’t do this. It can be expensive and stressful and will impact the business negatively. Often, a company will see it is in their best interests to let you leave quietly with minimal fuss.

Poor Employment References

It is worth bearing in mind that if you burn bridges with your employer then you may run into issues if you have to ask them for references later.

It would be frustrating to lose out on job due to a bad reference from your former employer.

Related: Can employers refuse to give a reference?

Deduction of Costs from Final Pay

It is also possible that your employer may deduct holiday overpayments or any training costs from your final wage.

They are perfectly within their rights to deduct holiday overpayments. However, if you have not signed an agreement specifically saying they can deduct training costs if you leave, this may be an unlawful deduction of wages.

When You Don’t Have to Give Notice

If you are within the first month of your employment and there is no contract stating otherwise, then you can leave without giving notice.

Employers can also dismiss you without notice during the first month of your role.

If you are on a zero hours employment contract – you have to give notice. However, you are not legally obliged to accept any shifts during your notice period. Some employers will tell you this is not the case, but that’s not how a true zero hours contract works.

Related: How to resign with immediate effect – for hints and tips on your rights and how to approach leaving without notice.

Outstanding Wages –  Do You Still Get Paid?

If you leave without notice, and you have worked there for over a month, then your employer still needs to pay you for the hours you have worked. There are only limited situations where an employer can withhold your pay.

You will not be entitled to any notice pay unless you can come to an agreement with your employer.

Related: Unlawful deduction of wages.

Payment for Holiday Entitlements

Your employer is obligated to give you any holiday money accrued on top of any wages owed for hours worked. The number of days you have accrued will depend on the length of time you have worked there.

Further Reading

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