Do I Have to Work My Notice Period?
In short, yes! Or at least, you should always have the intention to do so.
Almost every working person will at some point be required to work a notice period. Not only has the requirement for working out notice periods been added to every employment contract I have ever seen, but it is also written into the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).
So why is it that so many people ask this question if it is clearly a legal and contractual requirement?
WHY THE CONFUSION?
Not all employees are asked to work out their notice periods
Firstly, people tend to make assumptions. They see Matthew from Sales resigning today and walking straight out the door. In even more bizarre scenarios, Matthew is working for the competition the very next day! Bystanders convince themselves that this must be acceptable behaviour; â€œIf Matthew can do it, so can I!â€ But why do we have contracts then? And what is the purpose of the law?
It could be that Matthew went to his superior and handed in his resignation, stipulating that his last working day will be 30 days from now, thereby honouring his contractual notice period. However, when he told management that he is going to a direct competitor, they might have decided that it would be too risky to keep him around. They may not have wanted him to have access to client lists and other sensitive information if he is moving to the competition soon. So they decided to pay Matthew for the 30 days notice period, but did not require him to come into the office or do any work at all, effectively giving him a month’s â€œleaveâ€. So although the employee left of the same day, he has duly honoured his notice period as he is technically still working, although he is not required to do anything.
It must be added that in the example above, the employee would run into some trouble if he is caught working for the competition immediately after leaving the business.
Some employees are less concerned with managing their reputations
In many other instances, employees plainly resign with immediate effect, regardless of the stipulations of their contract or the law. There are a multitude of reasons this could happen, and one of those is inexperience in interviewing and negotiating with new or prospective employers.
For example: Senate is currently working as an administrator, but recently she was invited for an interview by her favourite digital marketing agency for a position as a Social Media Specialist. During the interview the panel informs Senate that they need someone to start in two days. Fearing that she might miss out on a great opportunity, Senate agrees to the start date. The next day, Senate goes to her boss at her current employer and resigns with immediate effect. Other employees at the company sees this happening, but do not see any consequences to Senate’s actions. Again, they believe that this behaviour must be acceptable, even when it is not.
As you can see from the above, without the proper information two scenarios that are vastly different can look very similar to uninformed bystanders. In this instance, both employees left the business immediately, but under very different circumstances. However, in both instances there was no direct consequence, and both got the new job that they wanted. So why work your notice period?
SO WHAT IF I DON’T WORK MY NOTICE?
It is correct, from a legal point of view, that it is extremely difficult for management or employers to enforce a notice period. They can technically bring a civil case against the employee but it is seldom worth it for them, as the case simply isn’t worth the time and money, so they just let it go.
South Africans are often misdirected by our societal failure to enforce certain laws and regulations. We often believe that because you cannot enforce an agreement or a law, it is acceptable break that agreement. A great example is how we treat traffic fines. This belief is false, especially when it comes to employment contracts.
The first and primary reason that notice periods should be observed by everybody, is that it is the right thing to do. It shows respect for yourself and for the other signatories to the agreement. It shows that you can be trusted, and that you honour the agreements that you enter into, even if you don’t have to. If this is not enough to convince you, always remember the second reason for honouring notice periods: You never know if you might need to go back!