If you quit a job voluntarily, this affects your legal rights to things like Employment Insurance benefits and compensation you are owed. Learn your rights if you quit your job.
What you should know
A key factor affecting your rights when you’re leaving a job is your employment contract. It may include terms that deal with how your employment can be ended. (Note there’s always an employment contract between a worker and an employer, even if nothing is in writing.)
Many employment contracts set out how much notice the worker must give to the employer if they quit.
Make sure you’re aware of any term in your contract that might limit your future activities. For example, a non-compete clause that tries to limit your ability to take a similar job. Or a non-solicitation clause that tries to prevent you from recruiting clients from your current job. These terms may or may not be enforceable — the more restrictive they are, the less courts are willing to enforce them. But you’ll want to be alive to any risk you’re taking on.
If you quit your job, you have a legal obligation to tell your employer ahead of time. The main purpose of the notice is to give the employer a reasonable time to adjust to your departure.
The amount of notice to give
Your employment contract may set out how much notice you need to provide.
If not, the amount of notice must be reasonable in the circumstances. The factors in play include the duties and responsibilities you have, your salary, how long you’ve been in the job, and the time it would reasonably take the employer to have others handle your work or to hire a replacement.
For more junior workers, two weeks’ notice is common. For workers with a lot of responsibility, four weeks’ notice is more typical.
Giving plenty of notice is recommended if you want your employer to give you a good reference when you apply for a new job.
How you give notice
The best way to tell your employer you quit is to give them a letter of resignation. To be effective, your resignation must be clear. Your employer should have no doubt about your intention to quit. Uttering the words “I quit!” as part of an emotional outburst is not enough.
When you tell your employer that you quit, your employer can accept or refuse.
If they accept, you’ll continue to earn your regular wage until your last day of work.
If your employer refuses (and says “take your things and go home, you’re done here”), they must pay you compensation. They must pay you for the amount of notice you have given. Or if your legal entitlement to notice on dismissal is a shorter period, they can pay you for that shorter period. (See People’s Law School’s information on how much notice an employer needs to give.)
Regardless of whether you notify your employer ahead of time that you’re quitting, your employer must pay all wages owed to you through your last day of work. This includes annual vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, and overtime.
If you’re covered by employment standards law, your employer must pay your outstanding wages within six days of your last day of work.
If you quit your job, you will usually not be eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. The exception to this rule is if you had no other reasonable choice except to leave your job. Some examples are:
- you experienced sexual or other harassment
- you experienced discrimination
- your working conditions were unsafe
- your employer was not paying you the wages that were legally owed to you
- your employer made major changes to your work duties
When you apply for EI, you will probably have to describe your situation and explain what steps you took to fix the problem before you quit. If you convince EI you had no other reasonable choice but to quit, you may be eligible to receive EI benefits. For more on eligibility for Employment Insurance benefits, visit canada.ca/ei or call 1-800-206-7218.
Sometimes a worker who quits their job doesn’t truly leave the job voluntarily. They may be reacting to a form of veiled dismissal. Instead of saying “you’re fired!”, an employer might do something more subtle that causes the worker to feel like they have no reasonable choice but to quit. It might be an unexpected demotion. Or a significant reduction in hours or pay.
If your employer changes your work situation in a fundamental way, and you don’t accept that change, you may have the same legal rights as someone who is fired. What happened to you is the legal equivalent of being dismissed. The law calls it “constructive dismissal”. This applies when your employer does something that:
- changes a key aspect of your employment in a major way, and
- is not something you should have expected, and
- you don’t agree to or accept.
If you’ve been constructively dismissed, you have the same rights as someone who was fired without cause. That includes the right to “notice” or “severance pay” from your employer. Severance pay is money you’re given in exchange for being let go without notice. See our guidance on if you are fired (no. 241) for details.
You can look for another job before you quit. If you don’t want your current employer to be contacted, indicate on your résumé and application that you are applying “in confidence”. This way you can still list your current job as part of your employment history.
Before making a final decision, an employer may ask for a current job reference. You can give the name of a co-worker if you don’t want your supervisor or employer to know.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in October 2017
Time to read: 5 minutes