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What to do when an employee quits with no notice

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Question:

We are a busy restaurant known for our holiday dinners so are open on all of them. I have a policy that each employee can request one of them off, either Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, but we need all other hands for the other four. One server was not happy with her schedule working all the holidays since she had already taken Thanksgiving off. After I explained the policy (again), she walked out. No two weeks’ notice, which would have at least gotten us through the holidays. Do I have any legal recourse?

– Owner

Answer:

While it might be the most wonderful time of the year for your guests, the holidays tend to put restaurants and restaurant workers under a lot of stress.

The irony is that at this busiest time of year for many operations, when employees are most needed, they may resign to spend the holidays with loved ones, leave for a better opportunity or simply burn out.

While two weeks’ notice is a common and expected professional courtesy in restaurants, with longer notice expected for management, unless your employees have contracts clearly stating the terms of their employment and the process for resignation, they are likely at-will employees who can come and go as they please. While leaving during your busy holiday season without notice may be damaging to your employee’s reputation and likelihood of future employment with your company, there isn’t much you can do besides question why you got into this business, which seems especially common for restaurant owners during the holiday season.

Employment lawyer Nan Sato, a partner at Fisher Phillips, agrees: “You are exactly right. Assuming this is an at-will employee, the restaurant does not have any recourse against her, because in an at-will employment relationship, either the employer [or] the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time without notice or cause. To prevent this from happening in the future, the employer can include a notice requirement in its offer letter. The restaurant should also ensure that the time-off policy is applied fairly to all employees. If certain employees always get to pick last or always get the undesirable holidays, then there may be a potential discrimination claim.“

As always, this column is not legal advice. Check with your attorney and local restaurant association for specific guidance for your situation.

More on employee resignation here.

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