First off, let me disclaim this by saying that this isn't about constructive dismissal - I'm not talking about scenarios where you quit in response to actions by the employer which effectively breach your contract, such that you can claim to have been constructively dismissed. That's an entirely different analysis, with many other considerations. In this entry, I'm discussing a normal, genuine, and voluntary resignation.
There are myths abound about "two weeks' notice". Firstly, many people believe that it is just a courtesy. It is not just a courtesy; notice of resignation will almost always be required as an implied or express term of an employment contract. Secondly, many people believe that two weeks is enough. That is not true either, or at least, not always true.
So, first things first, check your contract. Often, a contract will fix an amount of notice that the employee has to provide. In that case, it's easy. If you don't have a written contract, however, or it doesn't speak to notice of resignation, that doesn't mean you don't have to provide notice.
The common law implied obligation to give "reasonable notice" is one that cuts both ways. When your employer fires you without just cause, they have to give you notice, or else compensate you on the basis of it. Likewise, when you resign, you have to give the employer notice, and in the absence of a contractual provision specifying a notice period, that notice has to be "reasonable".
It doesn't often happen, but if the employer can quantify a loss because you left without notice, the employer can sue you for those losses.
So some things to think about: How hard will you be to replace? To bring a replacement up to speed on your work? If you work in a front-line retail role, or something else where a replacement should be easily found or other people should be easily scheduled to cover your shifts, then two weeks (or potentially even less), should be enough. On the other hand, if you're managing several complex projects, requiring a specialized skill set, and requiring detailed familiarity with the employer's processes and the files themselves, then it will likely be longer.
I include this as an afterthought, because it's rare. But there are circumstances where the Employment Standards Act requires specific notice.
If your employer is engaged in a mass layoff, and your employer has given notice of termination to at least 50 employees at the same establishment in a four week period, then the employees must give notice if they wish to resign earlier - one week's notice if they have less than two years of service; two weeks' notice otherwise.
As well, there are notice provisions regarding statutory leaves, including that, if you're not coming back after parental leave, you have to give at least 4 weeks' notice.
And there's one which, while not a strict requirement, is a good idea: When an employee has received notice of termination and is entitled to statutory severance pay, and the employee wants to leave before the end of the statutory notice period, the employee can preserve the right to statutory severance by providing at least two weeks' notice. (I have had this arise in context of a long-service employee who obtained new employment very promptly after being terminated. Remember: Statutory severance isn't subject to mitigation. So by ensuring that the employee gave two weeks' notice, this person got a soft landing going to a new employer immediately, and also got the statutory severance pay as a windfall.)
Now that we know to give notice, how should you give the notice? Well, the obvious answer is "in writing". And make sure you keep a copy for your records. There are a lot of common sense things to be said here about not burning bridges, etc., but I won't go into that.
What I will point out is that many employers may waive the notice period. It is not at all uncommon that an employer, when receiving notice, will say, "Don't worry about coming into work through the rest of the notice period", and escort you out of the building. (The escort is a funny piece of paranoia, but so be it.) In general, they still pay you out for those weeks. Be ready for it. Try to have your personal effects and workspace organized before giving notice in the first place - you may not have your x weeks to actually clean up.
Along the same lines, don't count on it. Don't accept a new job to start September 1, then give your notice on August 30 figuring that you'll be sent home. If it doesn't work out that way, you could be in a bind. (I've seen it happen.) Give your x weeks' notice with x clear weeks before your new start date. Consider discussing a revised start date if your notice gets waived (for a windfall), or just enjoy your x weeks of paid 'funemployment', as I've heard it called.
Also, if there are things that are important to keep from your work computer, make sure you copy them before giving notice. Personal emails, records, etc. You may be locked out of your computer immediately upon giving notice. However, and this is important, make sure not to take proprietary or confidential information. That's what often lands employees in a lot of hot water. Copy what's yours, but if you start going into copying what isn't yours - oh, maybe these blueprints I've been working on here will help me get a job with the competition - then you're basically asking to get sued.
Also, you need to remember that the other things you're receiving - health benefits, cell phone, etc. - may not continue long after you give notice. While they strictly ought to be continued until at least the end of the notice period you've given, there's no harm in being cautious and getting your prescriptions refilled on the company drug plan before announcing that you're leaving.
Similarly with bonuses. I've been asked before: I want to put in my notice at the start of the month, but there's a big bonus coming up partway through the month. Am I still entitled to it? That's a nuanced area of law, and the answer is always going to be "maybe", perhaps weighted more to one side or another, and so, if you can avoid it, don't take the chance. Wait, if possible, until after you have the cheque before you put in your notice. Even if you are entitled to it either way, it's still better to have it first than to have to fight for it.
(For this reason, you might occasionally hear about seemingly-random mass migrations from large companies. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a company gets a spike in resignations - that is usually because they have just paid out a bonus. The employees had, at some point or another, decided to leave, but didn't want to risk losing their bonus, so stuck it out just long enough to get the cheque.)
This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.
The author is a lawyer practicing in Newmarket, primarily in the areas of labour and employment law and civil litigation. If you need legal assistance, please contact him for information on available services and billing.