When is Leaving a Job Without Notice Okay?

Leaving a Job

You may be relieved to know that you are not the only one leaving a job right now. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, millions of people leave their jobs every month. 

And of course, people leave their jobs for many (many) reasons. But when is quitting without notice okay? And how do you explain it when asked?  

Let’s discuss some of those scenarios as well as guidance for describing your reason for leaving in an interview. 

Good Reasons for Quitting Without Notice

You Work with Bullies and Mean Girls

In my earlier life, I worked as a CAD engineer for a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina. The team leader of our group was a horrible woman. To me, she put the definition into ‘mean girl’. And it was tough. 

For clarity purposes, I should state that I actually enjoyed the job. However, I hated the toxic environment because I felt I had to always be ready for a confrontation. And I couldn’t quit…I needed that job. 

Because she was in a supervisory role, I felt more than just a little bit helpless. Having been a manager myself I knew the company had to have policies and methods in place to address the bullying. But I didn’t have the confidence that they actually would address it. And what if HR did decide to put my team leader on notice? People are vindictive…how much more difficult could she make my life while the problem was being resolved (if it was ever resolved)?  

So what did I do? 

I took the first train out of there. The director of the division offered me a chance to move to another location as the lead engineer and even though it added thirty minutes to my morning commute, I took it. I had to get out of that very stressful situation.  

Bullying comes in many forms. And make no mistake, you may be singled out because of your personal attributes or skills, but bullying always has something to do with the bully. Meaning, that she was likely insecure, jealous, prejudiced, had been bullied by someone else in the past…or she was just the devil ?. 

Know this – it doesn’t matter what caused her to treat me the way she treated me. What matters is that I deserve to work in a safe and supportive environment. And so do you. Where possible, follow the proper channels to address the toxic behavior. But if the situation doesn’t resolve, it is my opinion that quitting without notice is absolutely okay.  

You Experience a Personal or Family Emergency

Leaving a job because of a real personal or family emergency is definitely acceptable. But I would recommend you do a couple of things before quitting without notice.  

First, tell your supervisor what is going on. Doing this will go a long way toward preserving a positive relationship with your current employer. Most likely, it will leave the door open for you if you decide you would like to return in the future. At a minimum, you will retain the potential of a positive reference…and you will definitely need references in the future.  

But outside of being transparent regarding your situation, check to see if you qualify for a government-protected medical leave. The US Department of Labor has provisions in place that entitle eligible employees to take job-protected leave for certain reasons. If you qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (known as FMLA), you can continue your health insurance coverage while on leave. And, the company is legally bound to hold your job for a certain period of time so that you can return when the crisis is over. 

You are Asked to Do Something Illegal or Unethical

One of our CRAs called me one day in tears. While conducting a monitoring visit, she identified significant issues at one of her sites. She not only documented several protocol deviations but also uncovered a strong case of fraudulence against the PI. 

But, the CRO had pushed back to the CRA. They requested she not include the findings in her report. 

Actually, using the term ‘requested’ is too light. She was being coerced. The CRA was being strong-armed into changing her report. The reason? The CRO didn’t want the sponsor to know what was going on with the site. It wasn’t a good situation and I agreed with the CRA. After all, what is the point of having a CRA monitor a site if real findings aren’t addressed? Aren’t we all supposed to be advocates for patient safety? 

I called the Line Manager but didn’t find an acceptable solution. The CRA quit immediately and we terminated our contract with the CRO. If you are asked to do something unethical or illegal, quitting without notice may be your best option. Doing the right thing may not always be the easiest path, but it is always the right path.

Should you still list these jobs on your resume? 

The short answer is yes; especially if the position is recent and relevant.

Where possible, you should always give a two or three weeks notice. It is the right thing to do under normal circumstances. But if situations like the ones described above arise that put you into a position of leaving a job without notice, don’t be ashamed of it. Even if the position was short in tenure, you should add it to your resume if it is relevant to your career path. Recruiters and Hiring Managers look for trends when it comes to job tenure…meaning that one blip on your resume isn’t going to be a deal breaker.

However, there may be times when leaving the position off of your resume makes the most sense. Just be prepared to explain the gap. But never (seriously – never) stretch dates of other employment to cover up the gap if you take this approach. The start and stop dates of your positions will be revealed during a background check. And if those dates don’t align with those on your resume…well…now the Hiring Manager is likely to question your integrity. 

How Do I Explain Quitting Without Notice? 

It is almost certain that you will have to explain leaving a job without notice. The interviewer will ask you to explain the circumstances under which you left the position, and it is important to keep the following in mind:

Avoid a Dramatic Explanation

When explaining situations that were out of your control, remain professional and detached in your explanation. For example, you can describe a hostile or uncomfortable work environment by simply saying that there was a “change in the office climate” that you weren’t comfortable with.  Badmouthing your previous company or supervisor will be a red flag to your interviewer. 

So just don’t do it. 

Assess and Be Honest with Yourself

As you assess the experience, take a deep look at your past decisions. Would you do things differently now? Make different choices?

Said differently, no one is going to say that it is your fault that you landed in a toxic environment and was therefore put into the position of leaving a job without notice. But if you can use the benefit of hindsight to evaluate what you learned, the reality is that you may make different choices now. You can then speak to what you learned about yourself and how the experience has shaped your path moving forward.

The Hiring Manager will be impressed with your ownership as well as the fact that you strive to continually learn from your past experiences. After all, all Hiring Managers want to onboard team members who continually self-assess in order to grow personally and professionally.

Maintain Positivity During the Interview

Come up with ways to show that you can turn a past negative experience into a positive one. A great way to do this is to follow your explanation with a statement on how the new role is a better fit. Show that you are thoughtful. Also, show you are making tactical decisions that will keep you in alignment with your personal ethics as well as your career goals. 

In All Cases…

Prepare. Living through a tough work situation is just the beginning. Assessing how the situation has personally shaped you is key. Then, being able to articulate what you learned about yourself, and how the experience has helped to define your career path better is the ultimate goal.