What to do if an employee walks out of work without serving notice

Employee leaving work

Let’s set the scene. You’ve got an employee who hands in their notice one afternoon – in writing – and then doesn’t show up to work the following morning, despite having a four-week notice period.  Unideal to say the least.

So, what should you do?

1. First of all, check the employee’s contract to see if there are any clauses covering failure to work notice periods. Look out for whether not working the notice period allows you to deduct holiday pay, or charge the additional cost of covering the employee’s notice period with a temporary worker or another employee.

2. In writing, accept the employee’s notice and let them know of your intentions. So, for example, if you’re going to reduce contractual holiday pay to statutory holiday pay, let them know about this beforehand.

3. If you wanted to, you could sue the employee for breach of contract. Before doing this, evaluate the business case to determine whether or not it’s worth it – going down this road can be costly and time consuming.

If, for example, the employee in question is a director at your business and is contracted to serve a six-month notice period, it might be worth it. However, you can only sue for losses arising from the breach, which might be difficult to quantify, and you’ll have already saved six months’ pay to off-set against any losses.

For less senior employees who’re only required to give a week’s or a month’s notice, the cost will usually outweigh the benefits.

4. If the employee makes a complaint directly before they hand in their notice and subsequently walk out – i.e. sexual harassment, for example, we’d always recommend you deal with the complaint using your normal grievance process.

5. If they’ve walked out, there’s a good chance the employee in question may be disgruntled. If it doesn’t form part of your normal process when employees leave, we’d recommend changing any passwords they had access to.

6. Should the employee walk out with company property, you should:

  • Write to them and let them know you need the item(s) in question back
  • If they don’t respond or return the items and they still have monies to be paid, deduct the amount it costs you to replace the items from that total – to do this, you’ll need to make sure there’s a contractual clause allowing you to do so
  • If replacing the item(s) and deducting the cost isn’t an option, as a last resort, you could contact the police.

7. Finally, if you’re asked for a reference from the employee’s future employer, you can mention the fact that they refused to work their notice period.

What if the resignation isn’t in writing?

It’s always better to get an employee’s resignation in writing. However, if the employee verbally resigns and has been with you for less than two years, you’ll be safe from any potential ordinary unfair dismissal claims.

If any employee who’s been with you for more than two years walks out with nothing but a verbal resignation, we’d recommend you reach out to them to try to resolve the issue and get their resignation in writing.

If you try contacting them and you don’t hear anything back, write them a final letter including information like: accepting their verbal resignation, the date their employment terminated, to expect their P45 in the post and reiterate that you have tried to contact them previously.


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