The day’s here. You’ve been looking for months—writing countless cover letters, filling out applications, and sneaking out of your office for “dentist appointments” (aka job interviews). You’ve finally negotiated an offer and accepted a job, but now it feels like you’ve reached the hardest part: telling your co-workers and your boss.
Even if you can’t wait to start your new job—and you're itching to storm up to your boss and quit—you should handle your resignation like you would any other business endeavor. If you don’t present the news with tact, you risk burning bridges with your boss and co-workers—not to mention opening yourself up to reputational and legal ramifications.
Here’s how to keep the door open when you quit your job.
1. REVIEW YOUR JOB CONTRACT FIRST.
“One of the things that people are frequently caught by surprise is that they’ve signed some non-compete or non-solicitation agreement,” says Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer based in Florida. “Make sure you don’t have any restrictive covenants—you don’t want to leave and have your new boss get a letter saying that they have to fire you or that you’re going to get sued.”
Sometimes, you’ve signed forms at the beginning of your job that include a non-compete or a non-solicitation agreement, wherein you agreed not to leave your current company for a competitor or solicit the company’s customers or clients after departing, respectively. Employees frequently don’t know that they’ve entered into such agreements until after they try to leave their job. Non-competes aren’t just for top-tier executives, either; according to Ballman, certain companies have snuck non-competes into entry-level positions, like fast food workers or data entry clerks.
“I’d say 90 percent of the people who say they don’t have one, have one,” says Ballman. “It’s usually stuck in something called a confidentiality agreement, or an end-of-year bonus agreement. Read everything that you sign and get copies of it. Seriously! Read what you’re signing.”
2. DOUBLE CHECK TO SEE WHETHER YOU SIGNED A NON-COMPETE.
If you don’t have access to all the paperwork you’ve signed—and you think it’s likely a non-compete is involved—Ballman says the best course of action is to check before you quit.
“Send an email to HR before you leave, and say: ‘I have a job offer from ABC Company, and I don’t believe I have a non-compete. Unless you notify me within 72 hours from the time of the email that I have any kind of restrictive covenant, then I’m going to accept the position and give my notice.’ Then you’ve documented that you’ve tried. The worst thing to do is sneak around.”
3. GIVE PROPER NOTICE.
Legally, you’re not required to give two weeks’ notice—and it can be tempting to duck out earlier and take a vacation. But it doesn’t pay to cut your time at your company short.
“You need to find out what kind of notice is traditional in your industry, two weeks is the most typical,” says Ballman. “There is no legal requirement, but it can affect your eligibility for rehire and it can affect references.”
Find a private place to tell your manager that you’ve accepted another position at a different company—you don’t need to be specific. Make sure to thank them for giving you a professional opportunity (even if you don’t think they deserve it). Offer to train your replacement in the following two weeks, and assure them that you will wrap up your existing work. Then make good on your promises—don’t slack in your last two weeks.
“It’s best to leave in a classy way,” says Ballman. She also cautions that your boss may ask you to leave on the spot after you give notice. “Your boss can also say ‘get out now’… and a lot of people are surprised by that. It happens all too often."
4. DON'T ACCIDENTALLY VIOLATE ANY LAWS WHEN YOU LEAVE.
While you may have spent years slaving over a document for your job, it’s not actually your property—it belongs to your company. So as tempting as it might be to email key pieces of information to yourself, don’t.
“Once you leave, don’t start accessing the company’s emails, programs, or computers,” says Ballman. “Even if they have passwords that haven’t changed, you can be criminally prosecuted for that. Don’t take any trade secrets; don’t take any customer lists or confidential information. If you log into the company’s email, start checking emails that you’re not entitled to check, or you copy information, you can be criminally prosecuted."
5. MAKE SURE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE CARRIES OVER.
Your company’s health insurance coverage will likely end your last day—so make sure that your former company’s HR has your current address so they can send a COBRA notice and tax information.
“If you leave and lose your insurance,” Ballman advises, “You’re going to want to check out your ACA options because it’s cheaper than COBRA in almost any circumstance.”
6. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS.
Leaving an old job can feel like ending a relationship—even if you want to explore a new career, it can be hard for your old co-workers not to take it personally. But unlike many romantic entanglements, you should work to maintain close relationships with your former co-workers. If you stay in the same industry, it’s very possible that you could work together again.
“It’s very tempting to burn those bridges. When you’re young, you’re more impulsive and don’t think about those long-term consequences,” says Ballman. ”When you’re older, you’ve seen things happen to other people. Old folks tell you guys not to burn those bridges: It can come back to bite you.”