Two weeks' notice letters: Are they required by California law?

Generally, California employees are not required by law to give any advance notice to their employer before they quit their job. In some cases, however, the terms of an employment contract could require a specific time or manner of notice. So, the employee could be contractually required to give a certain notice.

Company policy may also require employees to give notice. Employees should carefully read through their employment contract or human resources manual to determine their obligations before resigning.

If neither the employment contract or any company policy requires the employee to give notice, no notice is legally required under California law. This is because California is an at-will employment state. At-will employers can fire their employee at any time. Similarly, at-will employees can also leave their employer at any time, even without a two weeks' notice.

Now that you know whether you can quit without a two weeks' notice, the next question is: should you?

Benefits of giving a two weeks' notice to your employer.

Your supervisor and workplace will appreciate a two weeks' notice because it gives them time to plan for your departure.

Leaving a positive impression with your previous employer could make you a much more competitive candidate for future jobs. Your former employer or supervisor might be more willing to serve as a reference, or they could speak highly of you if spontaneously asked. Also, future employers may be concerned if you have left a prior job without giving two weeks' notice.

More importantly, giving your employer advance notice of at least 72 hours, entitles you to all your outstanding wages on your last day. Labor Code, section 202, subdivision (a) requires employers, on your last day of work, to give you a pay check that includes:

  • Any unpaid wages minus any legal deductions.
  • Any accumulated and unused vacation time. ((Labor Code, § 202, subd. (a).))

The purpose of this rule is to compel your employer to promptly pay your wages. ((Oppenheimer v. Sunkist Growers (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d Supp. 897, 899, cited with approval by Smith v. Superior Court (2006) 39 Cal.4th 77, 92–93.)) As such, employers may not condition the payment of these final wages on the signing of a release or severance agreement. ((Singh v. Southland Stone, U.S.A., Inc. (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 338.))

Risks of giving a two weeks' notice to your employer.

Unfortunately, some companies abuse an employee’s two weeks' notice by terminating them before the end of the notice date. California is an at-will employment law state and your employer can terminate you before you planned to leave the company. ((Labor Code, § 2922.))

All California workers should protect themselves when resigning by carefully examining their job role within the company. They should also look at their employer's previous actions toward other employees who have provided notice of resignation.

One way to minimize the risk of advance notice is to provide a short amount of notice. Even though two weeks' notice is customary, you may want to shorten your notice to reduce the possibility of being terminated early. Depending on your job role within the company, one week notice or even less could be appropriate if your resignation would not seriously disrupt your company's operations.

Before you consider giving a two weeks' notice, take a look at how your manager and company have dealt with previous co-workers who have resigned. If those previous co-workers have been forced to leave before the end of their notice period, the same could happen to you. However, if your employer has allowed other employees to work until the end of the notice period, you should consider giving the customary two-weeks' notice.

When should I not give notice before I resign and stop going to work?

In some situations, you may not want to wait until after a required notice period before you stop going to work. Examples of these circumstances include:

  • When a co-worker or supervisor is threatening to attack you.
  • When a co-worker or supervisor is sexually harassing you.
  • When your work environment is unreasonably unsafe for your job duties.
  • Of if your mental or physical health is at risk.

If these situations are present in your workplace, you should immediately send a written report to your human resources department, supervisor, or other senior manager about what is happening. Your supervisors may have a legal obligation to consider your grievances and take reasonable steps to protect you.

What should I consider if I am thinking of quitting my job?

The following checklist should help you minimize any interruptions in your employment:

  • If you are thinking of quitting your job because something is affecting you at work, consider writing a letter or email to your human resources department. If your employer doesn't have a human resources department, locate the appropriate supervisor to confront these issues with. Many employers want to accommodate their workers to reduce their turn over.
  • Try to have a job offer in writing before you quit your current job.
  • If you think you might have potential legal claims against your employer, you should preserve all evidence you are legally allowed to keep.
  • When you leave your job, be very careful about signing any general releases or waivers that forces you to give up your legal rights.

What should I write in my two-weeks' notice letter?

Keep it short, simple, clear, and neutral.

The circumstances of a person's employment, and the conditions of their departure, will vary from case-to-case. Some people leave on very good terms, with a solid reputation, while others leave on a sour note. If you decide to give a two weeks' notice letter, you should tailor the letter to the specific facts of your case. It may even be a good idea to discuss the two weeks' notice letter with an employment attorney before you submit it.

In general, a short, simple, and precise letter is safer than a long, detailed letter. Expressing too many opinions, unless those opinions are appreciative in nature, can often rub your employer the wrong way. There is also not much of a benefit to disclosing personal details, feelings, opinions, or facts to your employer. Those details might be made public later, or could be used against you in a lawsuit.

You should also keep a neutral tone. Do not express either approval or disapproval of company practices in writing; it is unlikely to benefit you. As good as a long and scathing letter can often feel, it simply does not usually have any productive result. A two-weeks' notice letter should not include any emotionally negative statements, as they will only create unnecessary conflict between you and your (soon-to-be-former) employer.

Finally, be clear about your last day. State the day of the week, the exact date, and any other details that may assist your employer in preparing for your departure. This can help both you and your employer understand what your expectations are.

Sample two weeks' notice letter.

Below is a sample two weeks' notice letter that an employee could use, depending on their situation:

Dear :

Please allow this letter to serve as a notice of my resignation from . This resignation will become effective two weeks from today, on , , .

Please keep me advised if I can assist in this transition.


Final thoughts.

Determining whether you should give a two weeks' notice to your employer is a tough choice. You should balance the need for a future positive job reference against protecting yourself from being terminated prematurely, missing opportunities, and losing potential wages.

California employees thinking about quitting their job should take steps to protect themselves before leaving. Many employers attempt to pressure departing employees into signing away their legal rights by withholding their final paycheck or threatening a negative reference. This is against California law and a strong sign that something is wrong with your workplace.

If you have questions about leaving your job, give us a call at (949) 954-8181. All consultations are complimentary and confidential.