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What happens if i quit without giving proper notice?

Wrongful quitting is the term used when somebody resigns their employment without providing the employer with reasonable notice of their departure. We don’t often hear about these cases because employers seldom spend the time and effort to sue the departed employee. In order to receive an award from a judge, the employer has to be able to draw a direct line between money they lost and the lack of notice.
A recent case from British Columbia provides a good example.
Paul worked for a blasting and drilling company for five years. His last position with the company was running their Kamloops office. The office consisted of himself as an estimator. He was the only local employee. That made things very difficult for his employer when he resigned one day without any notice.
The employer sued Paul for his failure to provide reasonable notice of his departure and the trial judge awarded $56,000 in damages against Paul.
To keep the company functioning in Kamloops it had to ask a manager from Sudbury to immediately drive to Kamloops and stay there for a month to ease the transition. Soon after it then paid for another employee in Ontario move their family to BC. 
The award included round trip mileage for the drive for the first employee to Kamloops and back, room and board costs and pay during the unproductive travel time. Then there were the travel costs for the second employee who permanently took over and his real estate, land transfer tax and commission fees incurred selling his house and moving expenses.
That was a big judgment against Paul but he appealed it. While the trial results looked good for this employer, when the matter went before the British Columbia Court of Appeal, things changed. The employer ended up with an award of nothing.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal decided that Paul should have given one month’s notice.
The only monies the employer was entitled to were whatever it spent that it would not have spent if that one month notice had been given. Since the second employee did not move until more than a month after Paul’s departure, all of those expenses were off the table. That was money the employer would have spent regardless of how much notice Paul gave.
Given that Paul had left behind a company truck that the first employee who covered for him could have used, it made no sense for him to have driven to Kamloops and back. He should have flown. That would have cost $2,000. The room and board for that first employee to replace Paul for the one-month period was $4,000. Total, $6,000.
The catch was, Paul earned over $6,000 a month in salary. As a result of him not giving one month’s notice, the employer saved over $6,000. The one-month replacement employee would have received his salary whether he was in Sudbury or Kamloops so that changed nothing.
End result: No damages.  
As a result of cases like Paul’s, when I am asked by employees if they can be successfully sued by failing to give notice, I tell them that it’s not likely but still possible.
If the employer can show a judge on a balance of probability that a particular contract or sale and the resulting profits was irretrievably lost as a result of insufficient notice being given, that would change things. Proving that is, however, usually difficult.
Resigning without notice tends to burn bridges. A career road is often long and you could end up regretting having used that torch. If that is not a concern, however, the chances of an employer being able to directly tie an economic loss to your premature departure is slim.
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at ecanning@rossmcbride.com.
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809