How to Handle an Employee Giving 2 Weeks’ Notice

Business woman is showing the document for resignation for quit the job

It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, and one of your employees knocks on your door asking to come in. They’re avoiding eye contact, they’re fidgety, nervous… This can’t be good news. You imagine accidentally shredded payroll reports, stolen laptops full of patient information, or something equally catastrophic. But when the employee tells you what’s going on, it’s the last thing you expected: They’re putting in their 2 weeks’ notice. Now what do you do?

Before you can decide, you’ll need to know what your options are. In any “at-will” employment arrangement, you can let an employee go at any time for any reason that’s not unlawful (although there are factors you should consider first), and the employee can also quit at any time, with notice or not. At-will employment is the law of the land in 49 of 50 states, so we’ll assume your employee in question is probably at-will—unless you’ve done something to change that status, which we’ll discuss a bit later.

In most cases, you can do 1 of 3 things when an employee tells you they’re going to quit:

  1. Let the employee finish out their time.
  2. Send the employee home immediately.
  3. Send the employee home immediately, but continue paying them until their original quit date.

This is a decision you’ll often need to make right there on the spot, so it helps to know the pros and cons of each option beforehand.

Option #1: Let the employee finish out their time.

If you have a great relationship with the employee and there are no hard feelings over their quitting, having them continue working for a few weeks could be a godsend. You’ll have time to prepare, and the employee can help train their replacement and give a detailed explanation of their status on any projects, including advice on how to move them forward.

That time can be a double-edged sword, however. Keep in mind that even the BEST employees are liable to start “phoning it in” to some extent as they get closer and closer to their last day, so you might not be getting the same high-quality performance out of your employee during their last few weeks. Mentally, they’re already moving on.

But if you truly feel that your soon-to-be-former employee can perform well during their final weeks at your practice, letting them stay and ease the transition is a viable choice.

Option #2: Send the employee home immediately.

An employee who is working on borrowed time and no longer committed to your practice is a variable you can’t fully control, so you may feel that just removing them is the safer choice. Again, you aren’t required to let an at-will employee remain at their job for any length of time, whether they gave 2 days’ notice or 2 weeks’.

The biggest downside to letting the employee go right away is obvious: You’ll now have an unstaffed position, before you’ve been able to make plans to fill it. This is going to cause some stress among your staff, and you are likely to see office morale take a hit, at least in the short-term.

Then there’s the question of unemployment benefits. By asking an employee who gave notice to leave right away, you may, in rare circumstances, risk accidentally transforming a voluntary quit into an involuntary termination (without cause). In some states, the employee may be able to claim unemployment for those two weeks. However, generally, as long as the notice was two weeks or less, this will not trigger unemployment benefit eligibility.  Not paying wages in exchange for the courtesy of giving  the standard two weeks’ notice, however, may encourage other employees not to give you any notice next time.

Option #3: Send the employee home immediately, but pay out the two weeks.

This is sometimes your best option if you don’t want the employee to finish out their time. Perhaps you know they’ve been dissatisfied for a while, and you just don’t trust them to care about this job now that they have another one. This option may avoid further discontent: you’re paying out their time, while also limiting your risk.

You should also consider whether you have in any way altered the at-will status of your employment relationship with this employee, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as that could change your obligations. If you have an employment contract in place, you may have limited options.

Even without an employment contract, you should check your employee handbook for ways you might have inadvertently changed the employee’s at-will status. Do you state anywhere that notice before quitting is required for any reason? Unless you have very careful at-will disclaimers in place—which you should—policies like this are often viewed as an implied guarantee of employment for the length of that notice, which can also cause a loss of at-will status.

What’s the final word on that final two weeks?

If you like option 2 or 3 best, double-checking on at-will status before sending an employee on their way with their notice paid out is critically important. If you let go of someone who is not at-will, even just two weeks early, you could end up dealing with a wrongful termination complaint.

And one last caution—as always, be sure to treat similarly situated employees in consistent ways. Choosing an early acceptance of resignation from only your pregnant employee (or only your black employee, or only an employee who recently requested a medical accommodation, to name just a few variations) when you’ve never done this before could be problematic, and it may even expose you to a discrimination claim.

Otherwise, though, sending a departing employee home with their notice time paid allows you to avoid the trouble an iffy employee could cause on the way out, intentionally or not. Basically, you’re paying the employee to stay home instead of coming in to work for you. It isn’t ideal, but in some situations, it’s your safest option.


  1. Julie S says

    My employee provided his 2 weeks notice and has since called out 2 times without notifying me as his manager. After I inquired about his commitment to fulfill his 2 weeks notice he said I had no right to inquire on his whereabouts or it is considered harassment. I am still his manager and he called out for his shifts? Aren’t I still within my rights to inquire. I am upset about the level disrespect he has shown me. I have been very supportive of him as an employee. Flabbergasted at this reply. So I am not allowed to uphold policies after he resigns?

    • says

      Julie S, as long as your employee is still working for you, you are able to enforce the policies in your workplace’s handbook.

      This answer assumes that this is an at-will employee, and that you haven’t created any type of contract of employment with them. The employee isn’t off the hook from abiding by their work schedule, from abiding by policies, or from having to answer questions simply because they gave notice. It’s important that those policies be compliant with the law and that the employer is being consistent in the application of those policies.

      Note, however, that when an employee raises an issue like harassment, you need to be careful taking any sort of adverse action against this employee without first following up on the complaint. We recommend addressing the employee in the following way: “We appreciate receiving advance notice that you’re planning to leave, but we need to see that you are committed to being here each day and being part of the team. Asking about your absences isn’t intended to be harassment or to be prying into your personal life, it’s only to ensure that we can expect you to be here just as we would any other employee.” You will want to document this conversation as it may be valuable evidence for your defense, should the issue escalate.

      Finally, if the employee was taking time off under protected sick leave, you are likely prohibited by law from inquiring any further about the reasons behind the call outs.

  2. Julie says

    Hello my employee has gave me a 2 week resignation letter but I decided to terminate the next day
    Do I have to pay him the 2 weeks as we have no contract and need rules for U.K. Not us
    Many thanks

  3. Letoya Englemon says

    The pregnant employee gives 2 weeks notice, but close to the end she goes home early only being there 2hrs. It’s a 12hr shift, what can I do?

  4. says

    Hi Letoya,

    Assuming that this is an at-will employment situation, you could accept the resignation early and have the partial day be her last day. However, this is significantly riskier than just waiting for this employee’s last two weeks to run out. First, because this employee is pregnant, it can be seen as discrimination against someone based on their pregnancy or sex. Second, it can be seen as discrimination potentially based on their disability, if it was a physical limitation that forced them to leave work early. Either or both of these could result in a lawsuit or a complaint to the EEOC.

    More to the point, it is unnecessary. Talking to the employee about better communicating her needs prior to leaving and waiting out the last two weeks would be a much safer solution with better optics to the rest of the staff and to your patients.

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