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Home > News > July 2004 > 27-Jul-2004

Statutory notice periods too short, say HR professionals

People are changing jobs more frequently then ever, but a new survey has found that the country's HR professionals believe that statutory notice periods are too short.

The survey, carried out by Croner found that an almost equal number of respondents thought 4-8 weeks (38%) and 2-4 weeks (36%) was the right length of notice to serve.

Only 12 percent of those surveyed felt that notice periods should be less than two weeks, whilst at the other extreme, a further 12 per cent said 8-12 weeks was the right amount of time. Over three months was favoured by the remaining two per cent.

Current statutory requirements call for employers to give an employee at least one week's notice if the employee has been employed by the employer continuously for one month, rising to at least two weeks' notice if the employee has given two year's service.

One additional week's notice must be given for each further complete year of service. At least 12 weeks' notice must be given if the employee has been employed by the employer continuously for 12 years or more.

Peter Etherington, employment law expert at Croner believes the survey results reflect the wide variety of experiences with notice periods that different firms and individuals have. "Notice periods are given to protect both the employer and employee, and the time can be used to see a project through to completion, or to work alongside a replacement employee. The statutory notice period is a minimum requirement, and the required notice period should be stated in the contract of employment.

"The importance and impact of notice periods vary massively from company to company. They shouldn't be too difficult to manage if both parties behave correctly, but if handled badly by either party, this time can become unnecessarily awkward, unpleasant or even commercially damaging.

"There are a wide range of issues which impact on the answers given in our survey. For example, if an employee has access to commercially sensitive data or a company's future plans, then it might be best for their employer to send them out on immediate 'gardening leave'.

"Similarly, if an employee's continuing presence is likely to cause disharmony or resentment in the workplace, many employers find it easier to pay up their notice period for the sake of staff morale.

"However, employers need to consider the stability of their business if a key employee leaves and the likely impact their departure will have on their customers. Employers have every right to demand that an employee sees out their contractually-agreed notice period and puts in just as much effort as they would if they weren't leaving.

"We receive hundreds of calls every year to our business support helpline regarding how to handle notice periods, and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that both employer and employee need to behave sensibly and responsibly to make the notice period as smooth and stress-free as possible.

"Both parties should sit down, agree how the departure is to be handled with colleagues and customers and then stick to what has been agreed - failure to do this could lead to an awkward and swiftly deteriorating workplace situation, or even leave either party facing serious employment law problems.

"If a smooth handover has been completed inside an employee's notice period and all parties are happy to cut it short, there seems little point in dragging it out just for the sake of it - common sense should prevail."

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