Thinking of quitting your job in dramatic fashion? Make sure to think things through carefully before making any rash decisions. Many employees find themselves in very stressful positions and are looking for the right time to leave. Many of us feel overworked and under-appreciated. Some find themselves working for abusive bosses. Or sometimes, a great opportunity comes a long and there is a chance to move to greener pastures. In any of these situations, there are always things to consider when making the decision to quit.
Employees are often tempted to leave with an exclamation mark. This can be motivated by a desire to get even or get revenge for unfair treatment. It may be a letter circulated to the entire company and its customers, a harsh letter sent to the boss or a posting on social media. I have seen many situations where these actions come back to haunt the employees. While this is not to say that these actions are never a good idea, they are often more trouble than they are worth. This post looks at some of the issues you should consider when quitting a job – from an employment law perspective.
First, a recent example of an “I quit” video by Marina Shifrin:
As you may know by now, this video, at the item of writing of this blog, has had more than 8 million hits on YouTube. From a Canadian employment law perspective, the video is really not that bad. Ms Shifrin mentions that she was employed at a great place. She avoids slandering her past employer. And ultimately, she probably helps get them lots of publicity. She may well have generated job offers for herself in the process – and probably a variety of personal offers as well. Sure there are some vindictive employers out there who might try to bring some kind of lawsuit in a response to a video like this, but that would probably not be the best corporate marketing strategy.
Here, the company recognized that the video might be more helpful than harmful. So, it produced its own response, which it is also using to recruit new employees, sending the message that it is a fun place to work. The company’s responding video does not slander the departing employee – and in fact wishes her well:
As much fun as these videos might be, not everyone is about to make an “I quit!” video or other production. Most people would probably get themselves into quite a bit of trouble trying to do it properly and safely.
Whether you are thinking of making a video or not, here are some legal issues to consider when quitting a job in Canada:
1. Unpaid Bonuses: If you are with a company that has a bonus plan in place, you may not be eligible for the bonus (even an accrued portion of it) unless you are working at the time the bonuses are paid. Some employees have received a great new employment offer and cannot wait around with the old company to collect the bonus. If this is the case, you may want to ask the new employer for a signing bonus to compensate for the amounts you are losing. You might also want to check your employment contract and see whether you will be disqualified from the bonus if you leave before bonus time.
2. Restrictive Covenants: If you have an employment contract in place (which can even be an offer letter, from when you started or some later point in time), you may want to get that reviewed carefully by an employment lawyer before agreeing to go and work for a competitor. There may be steps you can take to minimize the potential difficulties. The covenants may not even be enforceable. If they are, or even if they might be, you may be able to get an indemnity for any legal fees and costs from the new employer. But you should deal with this issue properly before accepting the new position.
3. E.I. Eligibility: If you are quitting and you do not have a job lined up, you may not be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits unless you can prove that you were forced to quit (or left with no choice). Make sure you have a plan lined up for how you intend to support yourself.
4. Constructive Dismissal: If you believe that you have been forced to quit, either as a result of a reduction in pay, a demotion or a poisoned work environment, this is probably something that you should mention in a resignation letter. It can harm a constructive dismissal case where an employee sends a glowing resignation letter about how wonderful everyone has been in the workplace and then tries to allege “poisoned work environment.” If you are considering a constructive dismissal claim, you should probably get legal advice before you quit.
5. References: Employees quitting a job are often concerned about potential references. If you have been severely mistreated and have a legitimate constructive dismissal claim, it may be more important to take actions that support the claim than to worry about the reference from this particular employer. In fact, negotiating a mutually agreeable reference may ultimately be part of the claim. But in most other cases, leaving employment in a classy way will help ensure a decent reference from your former employer. You may even be able to get some helpful, written reference letters on your way out the door or some assurances that people will respond favourably when called.
6. Company Property: In most cases, employees are required to return all company property including computers, cell phones, vehicles and documentation in hard and soft copy form. There have been cases where employees have downloaded company documentation and information to local drives or even personal devices before leaving their employment. This can provide the basis for a lawsuit to be brought by the company you. Not a good idea!
7. New Employment Contract: If you are going to be accepting employment with a new employer, it goes without saying that you should ensure that you have received and accepted a signed offer of employment before submitting a resignation letter. You should consider having this new employment offer reviewed by a qualified employment lawyer. There may be clauses in the agreement that affect your future severance or your future ability to work elsewhere. There may be other clauses that have a major impact on your legal rights. Don’t assume that you are simply being given a “standard offer” and that is is “non-negotiable.” This is rarely true.
8. It’s a Small World: In most industries, the world is a lot smaller than we might think. Word gets around about actions that people take, especially if the actions are inappropriate. In the vast majority of cases, it is best to leave in style, with a classy, professional note to the employer. Who knows, you may find yourself working with, or even for, some of these people a lot sooner than you might have expected.