Employment Termination vs. Resignation: The Two Week Notice Question

I am frequently asked questions about sexual harassment, wrongful termination, employment discrimination and failure to pay overtime and wages, but I have had several people contact me in the past few days to ask me questions about termination vs. resignation. This is always a delicate area, because there are no hard and fast rules.

In the workplace, a standard practice has developed — employees typically give a two-week notice when resigning, and employers often give a two-week notice when terminating a person’s employment. From a legal viewpoint, these standards are arbitrary. An employee can quit without giving any notice, and an employer can fire an employee without giving any notice. There are simply no laws mandating such decorum in the workplace.

An interesting question that sometimes arises is as follows: if an employee gives a two-week notice, and the employer tells the employee not to work the two weeks — and does not pay the employee for those two weeks — can the employee file for unemployment compensation, even though the employee resigned (which would normally disqualify an employee from receiving unemployment). While there are no hard and fast rules, Maryland unemployment decisions concerning that issue have generally found that the employee is eligible for unemployment, but only for two weeks. After that date, the employee would not have been working anyway because of the employee’s resignation, so any unemployment benefits would cease after the two week period.

So, what should a smart employee do? From a common sense viewpoint, it is never wise to burn bridges, so give a two-week notice. If your employer chooses not to honor that two-week notice, you can always file for unemployment, but even if you don’t want to take that route, you will probably be better off leaving an employer on good terms.