Think twice before taking a marching band to work to quit a job you hate

Suddenly quitting that job you loathe in a pique of anger may feel satisfying at the time but it could come with unexpected consequences, says Toronto employment lawyer Ellen Low.

“If you are suddenly going to tell your boss to take your job and shove it, you should be cognizant that there is an outside chance that you may be breaching the contractual or implied contractual obligations to your employer,” says Low, principal of Ellen Low & Co. “What might very well be a gratifying 10 minutes could come with legal ramifications that could impact your future.”

She tells that there are many different iterations of workers finding creative ways to quit their jobs in an effort to exact some vengeance for what they deemed unfair treatment by their employers.

Joey DeFrancesco became an internet sensation in 2011 when he took a marching band with him to inform his boss he was quitting his hotel job.

‘I knew I had to get one last shot at them’

“I hated them, and they hated me,” DeFrancesco told Huffington Post. “It was this big drawn-out war we were having with management … I knew I had to get one last shot at them.

Low says while DeFrancesco may have literally gone out on a high note, he was also taking the chance of alienating himself with potential employers who might be hesitant to hire someone who could potentially embarrass them as he had done with his former boss.

Other, more extreme ways to resign have come with serious consequences, such as the flight attendant who suddenly quit after an altercation with a passenger in 2010.

The man uttered a string of expletives over the plane’s intercom, opened the emergency evacuation chute and grabbed two beers from the beverage cart before sliding to the tarmac.

He was later arrested for criminal mischief and reckless endangerment and had to pay the airline approximately $10,000 to replace the emergency chute. He eventually pleaded guilty and avoided a jail term under a plea bargain that required him to undergo counselling and substance abuse treatment.

Theatrics aside, employees should take a step back and reconsider a sudden resignation, Low says.

Take a few minutes to think strategically

“It can be tempting to just walk away from a job, especially if you are unhappy,” she says. “However, it can be in your best interests to take a few minutes to think strategically and critically about not only when you are planning to resign but how much advance notice of your intended resignation you plan to provide.”

Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act there is no prescribed notice period for quitting a job, Low says. However, a set notice of resignation will likely be set out in an employment agreement, she adds.

“Instances where someone dresses in a banana suit and hires a mariachi band to announce that they are quitting immediately are hilarious. But there is also the practical aspect of the employment agreement and it could be problematic depending on what is in that contract,” Low says. “By leaving immediately, that employee could be in breach of the contract.

“If an employee quits without notice, their employer can sue for damages,” she adds. “It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.”

She points to a report of two recent cases in British Columbia where employers sued workers for quitting without the required notice. Tribunals in both instances ruled against the employers because they were unable to prove they had suffered any real monetary damages.

May have the right to sue

“As an employer, you may have the right to sue somebody for breach of contract or wrongful resignation,” Low says. “But being able to demonstrate that there are actual quantifiable losses resulting from that breach can be challenging.

“However, it is possible. Employers could establish damages if they were forced to hire a third-party recruiting agency to pick up the slack until they could replace the worker who left,” she adds. “They might be able to claim the worker left abruptly during a major project, leaving them shorthanded and necessitating the need for overtime.”

Low says there are also certain industries, such as banking, where the employer could claim that by leaving without giving adequate notice the employee breached their ongoing obligation of confidentiality and non-solicitation.

Practically speaking, it may not be in a company’s best interest to sue an employee for quitting early in any event, she notes.

‘Chilling effect for potential employees’

“It can have a bit of a chilling effect for potential employees,” Low says. “You may not want to work for someone if there is a risk they might sue if you don’t give a reasonable notice.”

She says employees should carefully consider any resignation and the impact it will have on their future.

“Strategically speaking, giving two weeks’ notice is probably not all that arduous. You want to be careful about acting impulsively,” Low advises. “For example, will there be bonuses owed or major commissions coming due? Not surprisingly, employers will be reluctant to pay those out and will look for any legal excuse possible to avoid doing so if you suddenly pick up and leave.”

Low says if your work environment has become so toxic that you are considering quitting immediately, you should seek legal advice.

“You may have a case for constructive dismissal, for instance,” she says. “But if you resign in the heat of the moment, it may be difficult to walk that back and later claim you quit as a result of the employer’s breach of contract.

“I frequently advise people at their wit’s end to at least have a conversation with an employment lawyer before tendering their resignation or walking away without giving notice.”

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