How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?

Hollywood has often depicted people quitting their jobs as a moment of intense joy and satisfaction. An overworked and underappreciated employee storms out of their office after finally giving the boss a piece of their mind. It’s enough to make any tired and frustrated worker dream of a similar moment when they can do the same. But before you make fun of your boss’s appearance or slam the door shut on his face, you should probably know that real life can be a lot more complex. In most cases, people leaving their jobs will be contractually obligated to keep working a little while longer. Most of us can’t just walk out without first completing a notice period. This is usually a minor issue and doesn’t detract too much from the gravity of the moment. That said, it does raise some interesting questions, like – Do I have to work during my three months notice? Can my notice period be reduced? And can I get out of my notice period altogether?

The most important thing to realise about notice periods is that they are heavily influenced by individual contracts and Section 37 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Unless you have signed a contract that says otherwise, you’ll only need to give notice periods of the following durations – 

Notice Period Times

Length of EmploymentRequired Notice

Employed for 6 months or less 

Not less than 1 week

Employed for more than 6 months but less than 1 year

Not less than 2 weeks

Employed for more than 1 year 

Not less than 4 weeks (can be reduced via a collective agreement to 2 weeks)

Farm worker or domestic worker employed for more than 6 months

Not less than 4 weeks (can be reduced by a collective agreement to 2 weeks)
How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?
How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?

As you can see, the act does not stipulate a 3-month notice period regardless of your employment term. The only way you’ll end up with one is if you agree to it in your employment contract. 

Although, it should be noted that this part of the act does not apply to employees who work for less than 24 hours in a month. 

How Do I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?

If your contract requires a 3-month notice period, your best bet would be to try to negotiate with your boss to have it lessened. If you’re lucky, they may allow you to work a shorter notice period than was originally set out by the contract. 

If, however, your employer does not agree to lessen your notice period, you’ll normally need to stay on for the agreed-upon duration or risk being in breach of your contract, which could have legal consequences. 

In certain cases, however, employees may be able to cite constructive dismissal as grounds for not serving out their full notice period. 

Simply put, if you can prove that the work situation/environment has become so intolerable that you cannot reasonably be expected to continue there, then you may have legal justification to resign without working a notice period. 

Can I Legally Reduce My Notice Period?

As mentioned, notice periods cannot be reduced below certain minimum limits identified in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. That said, a recent amendment to the act now allows for the 4 week notice period to be reduced to a minimum of 2 weeks if this change is agreed upon by both parties. 

In other words, an employee that has worked at a job for more than 1 year will be obliged to work a 2 week notice period at the bare minimum. If your contract includes an extended notice period, you can try to negotiate with your boss and have this time reduced. 

Lastly, you do not have to work during your notice period on grounds of constructive dismissal if you can prove that your work environment has become intolerable. 

Can I Withdraw My Resignation During My Notice Period?

Yes, you can, but normally your boss can decide whether or not they want to accept your withdrawal. Every now and then, an employee will quit their job, only to change their mind a few days later and ask their boss to ignore their initial request. 

You may do this during your notice period but, most of the time, your boss isn’t legally obligated to accept your withdrawal and you may end up losing your job anyway. 

How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?
How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?

In very special scenarios, an employee may resign in an emotional state and then withdraw their resignation soon after – once they’ve calmed down. In such cases, an employer’s refusal to accept the withdrawal may be considered an unfair labour practice, but generally speaking, the final decision rests with your boss. 

Other times, in cases like this, there are even disagreements over whether the employee quit or was fired. This can result in an intense legal dispute so it’s advised that any job termination involves written documentation from both sides. When you want to leave your job, make sure that you present your boss with a written resignation and try to receive his/her acceptance in writing as well. 

What Happens If You Don’t Work During Your Notice Period?

Refusing to work during your notice period, or working for less time than is prescribed, may constitute a breach of your employment contract and could allow the employer to take you to court.

That said, employers seldom go down this route as it is an expensive and time-consuming exercise. Regardless, employees should remember that it is illegal to simply leave without notice or with virtually no notice given. 

How Common is a 3 Month Notice Period?

While the 3-month notice period has become more common in recent years, it is still mainly reserved for senior-level or high-skill jobs

Once again, it’s always important to read through your contract when you’re first employed to figure out what kind of notice you’ll be expected to give, but it’s unlikely that an entry-level or low-paying job will include such a lengthy notice period. 

How Do I Quit My Job Immediately? 

Legally speaking, you can’t just leave your job immediately unless you work for your employer for less than 24 hours a month or unless your workplace becomes intolerable and you are able to justify your absence on the grounds of constructive dismissal. 

In Conclusion – What is the Law on Notice Periods in South Africa and How Do I Get Mine Reduced?

The duration of notice periods in South Africa is determined by either your individual employment contract, or by the minimum requirements set out in section 37 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. 

The act states that  –

  • Those employed for 6 months or less must provide at least 1 week’s notice. 
  • Those employed for more than 6 months but less than a year must provide at least 2 weeks’ notice. 
  • Those employed for more than one year must provide at least 1 month’s notice. 
  • Farm workers or domestic workers employed for more than 6 months must provide at least 1 months notice. 
How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?
How Can I Get Out Of My 3 Month Notice Period?

There are, however, three exceptions that must be considered when dealing with these requirements – 

  1. They do not apply to individuals working a job for less than 24 hours a month. 
  2. The 1 month notice period may be reduced to 2 weeks by collective agreement.
  3. These times may not be reduced further even by contract. Contracts can increase the notice period but not decrease it below these minimum requirements. 

Generally speaking, you’ll only be required to give 3-months notice if you agreed to do so in your contract. Senior-level and high-skill jobs usually have extended notice periods set out in their contracts, but you are less likely to find them in other, entry-level positions. 

If you need to get out of your contract, your best option would be to negotiate with your boss to reduce the amount of required notice. 

Alternatively, if you can prove that your workplace/work environment has become intolerable, you may be able to forego your notice period on the grounds of constructive dismissal. 

It is illegal to simply refuse to work during this notice period as it constitutes a breach of contract and employers will usually be able to take such employees to court. That said, this action is rarely taken as it is usually quite expensive and time-consuming. 

If you change your mind after submitting your letter of resignation, you may withdraw it during the notice period, however, it is usually up to your boss to decide whether or not they will accept your withdrawal. If you resign in an emotional state and then withdraw your resignation soon after, you may be able to argue that you have been subjected to an unfair labour practice if your boss refuses to accept your withdrawal, but generally, this is not the case. 

Both employers and employees are advised to put down resignations and resignation acceptances in writing to ensure that there will not be any confusion or disagreement down the road. In certain circumstances, a lack of written evidence may result in one party asserting that they were fired while the other maintains that they quit. 

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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