When Should I Tell My Boss That I Quit

by Evil HR Lady on February 18, 2011

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have a verbal offer for a job at a new company with a specific start date. I want to give my current employer as much notice as possible. Would I be taking a big risk if I let my manager know informally now, and turn in a formal letter tomorrow? This would be about three weeks notice.

When Should I Tell My Boss That I Quit

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike C. February 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm

What is the logic behind making an offer before checking references? It sounds like a great way to cause someone to resign and find they don't have a new job and alienate 2nd and 3rd place candidates.

Speaking of legal substances, I'm sure you can imagine the mess medical marijuana plays into this issue. It escapes my mind the source, but I'm almost certain that companies can fire people who test positive for marijuana even if they have a prescription.

The issue comes up often with federal contractors.

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Rodolphe Mortreuil February 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I agree with your answer 100% EHRL. Do NOT resign until the company you are going to can not back down from hiring you. Maybe in the US an offer letter is enough, but here in the UK, that means a proper employment contract, fully negotiated and signed by all parties.

Too many things can happen to derail employment at the last minute: the hiring manager you negotiated with can get sacked (or have an accident) and the project canned, a sub-prime mortgages crisis can pop-up unannounced and kill all budgets for new hires… too many factors outside of your control.

While it is well-minded to try and give the employer as much notice as possible, the truth is that they will not be grateful for it anyway. Burn that bridge as late as possible.

And the specific start date is a non-issue: if they have decided that you are the person they want, they will wait for you an extra week if that is what it takes. If they attempt some sort of emotional blackmail around that start date, it should ring loud warning bells about joining them in the first place.

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Shawn February 18, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Mike: yes, companies can fire those who test positive for marijuana even with the prescription (because use is illegal under federal law).

While I agree with EHRL to have a very firm job offer before resigning or saying anything, an offer letter is not an employment contract (in the US). An offer letter doesn't mean things can't change, the job offer can't be rescinded, etc. In short, the offer letter isn't a binding contract.

My company almost never uses offer letters any more. We make verbal offers then immediately send the candidate an email summarizing the offer. That's it. There is nothing to sign, nothing to return, because none of that really matters.

We might do an offer letter for an executive or if special terms were negotiated into the offer, but that's it. We haven't done an offer letter in at least 2 years. I've never had a candidate ask for one in that period of time.

I'm not railing against offer letters here, just saying that a written offer letter is no more effective a tool in making sure you actually start your new job as a firm/settled verbal offer.

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Another Evil HR Director February 19, 2011 at 2:52 pm

As an HR professional with more than 20 years experience, I have to say that yes, your current employer WILL be appreciative of proper notice that you are leaving them. When I make offers of employment, I encourage people to give appropriate notice to their current employer, simply because I find it unprofessional to NOT give adequate notice, and I don't want people doing to to us, leaving us in a bind at the last minute.

If the company hiring you normally only gives the offer verbally (we don't make written offers, either), then I think you can give your notice, in writing, to your current employer.

As other posters have noted, problems do occur and nothing is risk free. If you have completed all pre-employment requirements (drug screens, criminal background checks, whatever) and the employer has offered you the job, I think you have what you need to give your notice.

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Anonymous February 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I don't want people doing to to us, leaving us in a bind at the last minute.
Presumably then, your company's employment contracts specify that you will always give 'appropriate notice' (a delightfully vague term) in case of layoffs too?

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Another Evil HR Director February 20, 2011 at 1:31 am

@ Anonymous: We don't have employment contracts. I could be wrong, but aren't you in the UK? It's not common practice in the States to have employment contracts. But, to answer your question, if we actually layoff, an employee or eliminate a position, yes, we give notice, or pay them in lieu of notice. However, layoff does not equal termination for cause; completely different situation.

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Suzanne Lucas February 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Another Evil HR Director–

You really don't do written offers, at all? Not even via email? Doesn't that result in confusion, or are you only hiring low level employees, where there's no ambiguity over benefits or other such things?

I don't need hard copy offer, but you bet I'd require an email.

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Another Evil HR Director February 21, 2011 at 1:40 am

@Suzanne: No, honestly we don't. And I'm not hiring just "low level" employees. There's no ambiguity over benefits, since everyone gets the same thing. In the future, should our organization need to hire a new executive director, or possibly an assistant executive director, a written offer may indeed be called for, but we have never had a problem with verbal offers. I'm not sure what confusion could result from verbal offers?

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Ask a Manager February 21, 2011 at 3:55 am

Hmmm, maybe not confusion per se, but I certainly wouldn't take a job without getting all the details of the offer in an email, at least. (And I agree with Suzanne that I'd be fine with just an email.) Because otherwise I'd have no recourse if a week into the job, they appeared to have a different record of the agreed-upon salary than I did. (Or any other details of the offer.)

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Suzanne Lucas February 21, 2011 at 5:37 am

Another Evil HR Director–What Ask a Manager said.

You say, over the phone, "The Salary is $75,000 per year." I hear, "The Salary is $79,000 per year." 9 and 5 sound very similar which is why, when speaking with air traffic control you say Nine-er, to avoid confusion. But you don't do that in HR.

So, I come to work my first day and fill out all my paperwork. I work for 2 weeks (or longer) and finally get my first paycheck. Now, I discover that I'm being paid less than "we" discussed.

I feel cheated. You feel like I'm trying to scam you. I wouldn't have accepted the job at $75k a year. Now, you've got an unhappy employee who doesn't trust the company.

No way would I ever want this scenario to even be possible. If you wouldn't send me an email, I would type up what you said to me over the phone and email you.

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Another Evil HR Director February 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm

@Suzanne: I see your point that mistakes like that can happen. I've just never had an issue in the more than 5 years I've been with this particular organization. Also, at the point at which we make an offer, all pre-employment investigation, etc. has been completed. We've never been in a situation where we felt we wanted or needed to rescind an offer.

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