Leaving a job

Here we explain what rights you have when your job comes to an end - whether that is because you have chosen to leave or because your employer ends the contract (the law calls this ‘dismissed’). There are rules to protect people from being unfairly dismissed (or unfairly sacked, as it is often called). This page explains them, how to resign from a job, and the rules around notice periods, and references.
Asking questions outside court hearing

If your employer ends your employment

How to quit a job

If you have decided to  quit a job, you need to make sure that you tell your employer that you are leaving and give them enough notice. You may have to tell them this in writing - it is always useful to do so as then you have a record of what you said. You have to give at least 1 weeks’ notice if you have been working in the job for a month or more. This means that you need to continue to work for them for one week after you have told them you are leaving in writing. You might have to give a longer notice period if it says so in your contract.

If your employer ends your contract (if it wasn’t only for a fixed period) it is called a dismissal. In England and Wales we often call it being ‘given the sack’ or 'fired'. It is only legal for your employer to sack you or fire you if it's done fairly. Otherwise it is against the law and is called ‘unfair dismissal’. 

For it to be fair, the employer has to genuinely believe that you were guilty of the thing they think you have done wrong, and the reason was fair. For example, either you behaved badly (misconduct), you weren’t able to do the job properly (capability), or they had to make people redundant because there wasn’t enough work/money. 

They must have carried out a proper investigation and have followed proper procedures. 

They must have arranged a special meeting to tell you why they are considering sacking you, and given you enough notice of the meeting to give you a chance to respond. Their reasons for considering sacking you should be put in writing and sent to you before the meeting.  

When you attend the meeting you have the right to bring along with you someone you work with or, if you have one, a union representative.

Dismissal must be reasonable in the circumstances - for example, it would generally not be reasonable to dismiss for a first offence unless it is highly serious (such as theft or dishonesty, fighting or violence, or serious health and safety breaches).

You must get an opportunity to appeal against being dismissed.

When it is fair for your employer to end your employment

Misconduct - This is when you behave badly at work. But your employer should give you proper warnings before sacking you for misconduct. If you do something so bad that the employment relationship breaks down, like stealing from the cash till or assaulting someone, it is called ‘gross misconduct’ and you could be dismissed without warnings (as long as you had a chance to explain your behaviour). 

This is just one of our resources to help you understand your employment rights. We also have help that explains your rights as a worker or employee (including casual worker rights),  pregnancy rights at work (including maternity rights if facing redundancy), the law on breaks at work, your rights to sick leave,  your rights to pay and deductions from pay, and holiday entitlement

You aren't capable of doing the job - If you aren't able to do the job you are being paid to do, your employer can dismiss you. But your employer must generally have given you proper warnings about your poor work and given you opportunities to improve. If it is because of something to do with your ill health, your employer should, with your permission, have considered medical evidence relating to your ill health and decided whether there is anything it can reasonably do to help you do your job.

Redundancy - This is when there is no need for someone to be doing your job any more, for example if your employer is closing down the part of the business you work in. There are complicated rules about redundancy and employers sometimes use it as an excuse to get rid of people unfairly. If you have any doubt whether your redundancy is genuine, you should speak to an employment expert if at all possible - See How to get free legal advice about an employment issue.

If you have a 'fixed term' contract and it comes to an end, your employer doesn't have to keep you on afterwards but they would have to have a fair reason for not extending your contract, especially if the post will continue with someone else in the job.

When it is unfair to dismiss someone

There are some situations when it is always unfair dismissal. For example, if you are sacked because you are pregnant or because you complained about unsafe working practices. You can find a full list on TUC.

If your employer has just picked on something as an excuse to sack you and/or they have been unreasonable in the way they have gone about it (like not giving you warnings, or a chance to improve), it could be unfair dismissal. 

You have to have been working for your employer for at least two years to complain about unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal (see How to tackle problems at work). But if you think the real reason you are being sacked relates to your age, race, nationality, gender, religion, and sexuality or because you have a disability, you have a right to complain no matter how long you have been in the job - see Discrimination at work. Similarly, if you think the real reason you have been sacked is because you complained about health and safety or something illegal in the workplace it also does not matter how long you have been working. You may also have a claim if the unlawful discrimination was before appointment – for example if you were discriminated against at interview.

If you think you have been dismissed unfairly

See How to tackle problems at work.

Notice periods

If you want to leave your job
You need to make sure that you tell your employer that you are leaving and give them enough notice. 

You may have to tell them this in writing.

You have to give at least 1 weeks’ notice if you have been working in the job for a month or more. This means that you need to continue to work for them for one week after you have told them you are leaving in writing. 

You might have to give a longer notice period if it says so in your contract.

If your employer is ending your employment

They should give you at least 1 weeks’ notice if you have been working in your job for more than a month but less than 2 years. This means that they should continue to give you work and pay for one week after telling you that they are ending your contract.

If you have been in the job for 2 years or more, you should get a week's notice for every full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. This is the minimum notice you should get - your contract might say you are entitled to more. 

Where your contract and the law say different things about what notice period you are entitled to, the longest notice period applies.

You only do not get a notice period if you're sacked for ‘gross misconduct’. 

Rights to pay and leaving your job

Normally you should get full pay up to the day you finish working for your employer, including any accrued holiday pay, overtime and commission. If you are being made redundant and you qualify for payment you should also get this when you leave.

If you quit without giving proper notice, your employer should give you the money you earned up to the day you left. But they may be able to withhold money if you have signed a contract which says they don't have to pay you if you don't give proper notice.

You will usually get your pay on the date that you would have been paid had you stayed. This might be after you have left.

If you do not get a payslip with your final pay, ask your employer for one. If that doesn’t work, consider using the grievance procedure


Employers are under no legal requirement to provide employees with a reference. But they should give you a reference if they normally give them.

If your employer does give a reference, remember that they have to tell the truth about you, so valid criticisms of your work may come up. A reference has to be fair, accurate, and not misleading both for you and any prospective new employer. 

If you have doubts about the sort of reference you are likely to get, it could be sensible to discuss it with your employer before handing in your notice – you don’t want to have left your old job, then find your new employer refuses to take you on because of an unsatisfactory reference from your old employer. Sometimes employers will agree to give a factual reference which just includes the dates of your employment and the title of the job you did.

July 2023

Need more information 

For more help see Dismissal and redundancy. We have hand-picked the best accurate information available about discrimination law in England and Wales available anywhere on the web, so that you don't have to.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales.

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested if at all possible.

This guide was written by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Bar Standards Board.

Law for Life would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide and Amy Stroud from 42BR Barristers who peer reviewed the guide.

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