Quitting Your Job or Thinking About Joining the ‘Great Resignation’? Here’s What an Employment Lawyer Advises

Yves here. Even though I suspect most US readers are familiar with the little minefield of quitting a job, this list is a useful reminder, and could also be helpful to younger relatives or contacts who might not know the drill.

At least at bigger companies, where exit processes are highly routinized, most workers who’ve been there any length of time will likely have gotten wind of how they are handled. For instance, some firms treat everyone who is leaving as if they are a potential thief or vandal, whether or not they were fired or left of their own volition. They are immediately barred from the premises, and have what are deemed to be their personal items shipped to them, or alternatively, are marched to their desk with an HR person standing over them as they box up their stuff. So one tip is to remove everything that is yours out of desk drawers and any closets before announcing your departure; leave only desk decorations (and take a time stamped picture the day before).

Another issue is some firms insist on an exit interview. I’ve never understood them because staffers have incentives to lie if their problem was their boss. Things might change at the company for the better and you might want to come back; best not to burn bridges unless you’ve concluded it’s irremediable or you are leaving the industry or you want revenge (as in say you were sexually harassed or pressured to do something unethical and want that on the record, with names). If you are going to discuss actual or suspected bad conduct, I would record the exit interview; Lord only knows a perp might somehow try to pin something on you now that you’ve gone. Or perhaps better, say you’ll get back to them in writing (which they really will not like, a conversation allows them to selectively paper the record) and send them a missive, cc’ing your attorney.

By Elizabeth C. Tippett, Associate Professor of Law, University of Oregon. Originally published at The Conversation

Record numbers of Americans have quit their jobs in recent months, with more than 4.4 million submitting their resignation in September alone. Millions more may be preparing to follow them to the exits – one survey found that around a third of workers wanted to make a career change.

But one of the things I learned over the years as a lawyer and later as a professor specializing in employment law is that timing and preparation matter when it comes to quitting a job. So even if you have another job lined up, it’s worth considering a few factors that might influence whether you quit now or stay in your current role for a few weeks – or months.

1. No Unemployment Insurance

In general, workers who quit are not eligible for unemployment insurance.

Instead, unemployment insurance is reserved for those who lost their job through no fault of their own, generally as a result of a layoff or other termination.

2. Two Weeks’ Notice Not Required

Employers often request that workers provide two weeks’ notice before they quit, but your employer cannot force you to stay in a job you don’t want.

Almost all employment relationships in the United States are terminable at will, meaning the employee can be terminated – or can quit – at any time.

It also means that if you give your employer two weeks’ notice, they might choose to terminate your employment earlier, including immediately upon receiving your notice.

3. Check Your Vacation Balance

If you are eligible for vacation or paid time off, it’s worth checking your vacation balance, as well as your company’s policy regarding vacation payout for workers who quit.

Some state laws require companies to pay out employees’ remaining vacation balance as part of their final paycheck. Other states allow companies to refuse to pay out remaining vacation.

If your company’s policy states that workers forfeit their remaining vacation balance upon termination, you may want to take any vacation days you’ve accumulated before you submit your notice.

4. Consider Your Need for Leave

If you expect to need family or medical leave to take care of a newborn baby, recover from your own health condition or care for a sick family member, now may not be the best time to quit your job.

Although state law varies, you’ll be eligible to take leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act only if you have worked for a company for more than a year. The law also applies only to companies with more than 50 employees and workers who have logged at least 1,250 hours at the company in the past 12 months.

Although the leave is unpaid, it allows you to continue your benefits while not working and enables you to return to your job at the end of the period if you so choose.

5. Health Care: Plan Ahead

Quitting a job also means losing whatever health coverage you receive through your employment. Your termination paperwork should explain how long you will remain covered under the current plan – for example, the last day of the month that your employment ended.

If you have a new job lined up, you’ll want to ask them when you can expect to be covered under their plan. For any gaps in coverage, you can opt to continue under your old employer’s plan through a law called COBRA, but you’ll have to pay your old employer’s share of the premium, which can be pricey.

You may want to comparison-shop on the Affordable Care Act health care exchange, which offers subsidies based on your income.

6. Consider Any Bonuses on the Line

If you are lucky enough to be eligible for a bonus – such as an annual bonus if the company logs a successful year – you’ll want to check its terms and conditions.

It’s not unusual for companies to require workers to be employed on the date the bonus is paid to be eligible to receive the payment. If you happen to quit the week before, you may be out of luck, unless wage laws in your state protect that payment.

If you expect to receive a big bonus this year, you may want to stick around until that bonus check is in your bank account.

7. The Final Paycheck: Know Your Rights

State laws will generally impose rules requiring your employer to pay your final paycheck within a certain period after your final day of work. If you’re owed sales commission, there may be separate rules on when that needs to be paid.

State rules also prohibit your employer from making deductions from your paycheck without your permission – such as deductions for equipment or to recoup a signing bonus or relocation expenses. If your final paycheck doesn’t arrive within the legal time frame, or includes unauthorized deductions, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer.

8. Do Not Take Anything from the Office (Without Permission)

If your job involved working on a laptop or in an office, it might be tempting to plug a thumb drive into that computer and download some useful files for future reference – maybe some spreadsheets or a PowerPoint presentation you were especially proud of. Don’t.

Be careful not to take any company information when you leave a job.

All information that you had access to during your job, and even anything you produced while there, belongs to your employer. Downloading information onto a thumb drive is a great way to trigger an expensive lawsuit over whether you have stolen company trade secrets, especially if you are leaving to work for a competitor.

And yes, they will be able to tell that you plugged a thumb drive into the machine.

If you just need to download some personal files or a work sample for your future career, get permission from your boss or human resources to download or copy the files.

After all, departing a job in style isn’t just about sending a sarcastic email on your way out the door. It’s also about leaving with a bonus check in the bank and an empty vacation balance.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Skunk

    I’m not a lawyer and my post is not intended to be legal advice. However, if you are being pressured to do something unethical and think you may have to refuse, you should not underestimate the response that may be coming down the pike. At home, you should keep your own copies of all performance evaluations, promotion letters, award letters, documentation of service to your employer, etc.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is an excellent point. The best protection is run not walk from that job as soon as possible, but for those in senior-ish specialized roles, or with working spouses (ie, difficulties in moving if needed to land a new good post) a fast departure isn’t always viable. The one person I know who was in that position was able to leave fairly pronto but even years afterwards would talk about the misconduct only in the most veiled terms.

      1. TimH

        I’d add:
        1. There is no upside to telling the company that you are leaving where your next position is. You have no idea who knows who, and who can get your offer rescinded before starting. Get a friend to say to you “Please don’t tell your employee where you are going” so you can say without lying “I’ve been asked not to disclose…”

        2. Get in the habit of forwarding from your work email to your personal email all HR related emails. This is better than printouts, because leaves evidence trail that makes the documents harder to dispute. Perf reviews, pay rises, bonuses etc. Absolutely nothing work related. If you are emailing HR, copy to personal email. If you have an HR interview, take notes visibly, and write an email to HR and personal email detailing the discussion and action items… if they don’t dispute it, your version is fact.

        3. Remember that you can decline the exit interview, so tell them it’s being recorded. If they say no no no, then decline. Their choice.

        4. If you critique, remember that it may be quoted in a courtroom…

        5. If you are leaving because HR didn’t resolve some abuse scenario, bring documentation of that to the exit interview. If recording isn’t allowed, ask to be interviewed by someone higher up the chain and/or legal

    2. BeliTsari

      Requiring confirmation, from a client who’s being coached by your boss, to buy capital equipment, not-conforming with their specification (or those of industry self-regulatory standards), had become so commonplace during impromptu Gas & Oil Co. phone conferences, we’d often get the vendor to mention we were recording the meeting and copy proprietary reports, by way of verification. When you’d switch employers, and the pipelines blew up (and PHMSA invariably called it “subsidence”) You didn’t have to fret about being the weakest party?

  2. griffen

    Left my role in April/May this year. The organization was an unmitigated cluster-mess, VP conference calls apparently the best use of executive / leadership ability. Nothing dubious or on the edges, just a lack of coherence combined with turnover in the executive corners does not help. It is the one time in a 20+ career of varying successes & “face-planting”, I felt reasonably assured of my decision. Having had time to reflect, I would do so again.

    Leadership in organizations big and small matters. Poor leadership is anathema, and best avoided.

    1. LawnDart

      Leadership in organizations big and small matters. Poor leadership is anathema, and best avoided.

      Huge. Left in November.

      Small company, specializing in heavy industrial equipment designed to move, sort, shred, and crush stuff.

      Repeated poor decision-making by owner often led to unnecessary potential hazards and dangerous conditions in a field where mistakes can easily turn fatal: these machines have many ways of killing you.

      Concerns went in one ear and out the other, but I don’t think it was willful negligence; the owner is one of these people who must directly experience something before it becomes real to him, otherwise it remains an intangible abstraction. Not a bad guy, and not a dumb guy, but he just doesn’t get it.

      There were other issues as well with regards to compensation and the overall direction (or lack thereof) of the company, but safety and my personal well-being were at the top of the list. I am fortunate to be in a field that is experiencing a very high demand for workers, but for now, aside for some 1099 work for my former company and maybe a few others, I’m taking a break before returning to the workforce full-time– I need time to regroup and recharge.

  3. curlydan

    I am a half-member of the Great Resignation, i.e. I moved to half-time since the start of November. I basically told my employer I could either resign or start working part-time. I kind of wanted the part-time, and luckily, they agreed to it. Fortunately, I also got to keep benefits even though I get health care through my wife’s employer. They probably wanted me to go to a contractor, but I told them I couldn’t do that.

    After working 26 years straight for corporations full-time, I needed a break.

  4. Bob

    “Quitting a job also means losing whatever health coverage you receive through your employment. Your termination paperwork should explain how long you will remain covered under the current plan – for example, the last day of the month that your employment ended.”

    is this correct ?

    It used to be that an employee was eligible for COBRA which means the health insurance could be continued however the employee would have to pay the full amount that is the previous employee contribution AND the employers contribution.

    Here’s the DOl reference.

    Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events.
    Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) | U.S. Department …


    Two other items –

    It is generally / often easier to get a job if you are presently working.

    It is not uncommon for employers to blacklist exemployees. Expect this. !!

    1. CanCyn

      Always be sure to cultivate relationships outside your company so that you have references in case things go south. In academia, it is not unusual to request a mandatory reference from current supervisor. Needless to say that can be problematic. Be prepared to tell your side of the story or explain the situation in a positive light and perhaps be able to offer a reference from someone else in an administrative position at the company.

  5. YankeeFrank

    FYI, under the FMLA, if a firm is going through a restructuring at the time of your leave, they can lay you off if they claim its part of the restructuring. I went through this earlier this year. They played right into my hands as I wanted them to lay me off because the job had been going from bad to worse for a long time but I didn’t want to quit as I was due unemployment. This was all on them though as I had every intention of returning once my health issue cleared up. The company, a startup, has almost completely fallen apart since but then that’s how they tend to go.

  6. CanCyn

    “Another issue is some firms insist on an exit interview. I’ve never understood them because staffers have incentives to lie if their problem was their boss. Things might change at the company for the better and you might want to come back; best not to burn bridges unless you’ve concluded it’s irremediable or you are leaving the industry“
    This ‘don’t tell’ thing is oh so convenient for employers. People leave because of a bad boss or co-worker and nothing ever gets done about said bad folks. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the stigma that can affect people who speak up. But if you can speak up at an exit interview it can be most satisfying. I’ve had two exit interview opportunities in my life – one which had some consequences for the bad actor and one which did not. In the first case this woman was bonkers and many knew. My exit interview (initiated by HR) seemed only to confirm what HR and Admin already suspected. They actually indicated ‘laid off’ on my Record of Employment instead of ‘Resigned’ so that I could collect unemployment insurance! To be fair that was an early job after graduation and not directly related to my chosen profession – ie. I had little to lose by speaking up. I heard from others after I left that the woman did not get an anticipated promotion and left the employer for less status employment soon after. Score! Latter case was not as successful and again kind of a nothing to lose situation – it was towards the end of my career and I had enough good will in libraryland to be able to risk alienating this horrible boss, she was in her position via cronyism and had little status in the industry. I put up with her antics for years (nothing criminal just incompetence and verbal bullying behaviour), without protesting or questioning her. Job was great pay, great benefits and some good colleagues – all of which helped ease the pain. When I decided I could take it no more and had landed a job elsewhere (longer commute, less pay) I requested the exit interview. Head of HR did it and seemed concerned but nothing happened immediately after I left. A couple of years later, a former colleague got involved in a bullying grievance about her behaviour and the union asked present and past colleagues to write letters in support. Most cathartic letter I’ve written in my life. And justice was finally served, it took 2 years for the dust to settle but she ‘retired early’ and has not been heard of again in libraryland. I am retired now and one of my few regrets is not standing up to that woman when I worked for her.

  7. Questa Nota

    Never underestimate the vindictiveness or other dickish behavior of bosses. Some will try to make lives miserable and spread rumors because an employee didn’t buy into their vision and actions. Know that such can happen and prepare for it. Your reputation is earned inside and outside the company and can withstand knocks but you have to be engaged in preserving that.

  8. Starry Gordons

    During most of my career (as a computer programmer etc.) in the period from 1965 to 2010 the custom of parting was a sort of non-aggression pact between the former or soon-to-be-former employee and the employer: ‘I won’t tell on you if you don’t tell on me.’ No one in his or her right mind ever gave a bad reference. In my own case, in case diplomacy failed, I let it be known that I kept a book — a diary or journal of every order, directive, plan, assignment, etc., put forth by the management, with dates and names. Sometimes my colleagues came by to consult it, so the fact of its existence got around and may have saved a job or two. I also kept memos, but just as people don’t read much, they don’t write much; there is a sort of illiteracy among even the PMC elites. I kept most of this material at home or in an attaché case I carried with me. (I see from the above that it was illegal to possess it.)

    The custom of marching the exiting employee to the door under guard as a potential vandal or thief seems to be a fairly recent development, but it is true one should take everything you can with you in advance of the Day because you may not see it again otherwise.

    When the last company I worked for was in the process of dissolution I went through the office library and found numerous books on the theory of terminating employees, some with remarkable detail. The other side has thought things out. Their main fear seemed to be of litigation.

    1. juno mas

      …and litigation is not cheap! Lawyers do not work for free, so your “access to justice” requires either deep pockets, slam-dunk documentation, or your ability to find a law firm that will take your side on spec.

      1. TimH

        Motorola cell phone engineer at Libertyville (yeah, a while ago) told me that they knew that layoffs were happening by the armed security posted around entrances on the day…

  9. Arizona Slim

    Back when I quit my last two oh-so-professional jobs, I was urged NOT to burn any bridges.

    And what did I do? I burned those bridges, I dynamited them, and then I blew up the rubble!

    What was the long-term effect? Well, there was none, zero, zip, nada. Matter of fact, I am now quite friendly with one of my former bosses.

    So, there you go.

      1. Arizona Slim

        When meetups NC start again, I will be hosting one in Tucson. For you, coboarts, anything on the menu. I’m buying.

Comments are closed.