Does an Employer Have to Provide Notice of Termination?

termination of employment
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A notice of termination is an official, written notification of being laid off or fired from an employee’s current position. Reasons for termination can vary from gross misconduct, tardiness, and insubordination to layoffs, corporate closures, or downsizing. 

Does an Employer Have to Provide Notice of Termination?

The majority of Americans are “at-will employees.” This means that the employer-employee relationship can end for any reason (or no reason) as long as the employee is not being fired for discriminatory reasons such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, or is not covered by an employment contract.

For employees, being hired at-will means that they are able to quit or leave at any time, giving two weeks notice or no notice at all.

For an employer, it means that virtually any reason for termination - from poor job performance to company restructuring to the whims of upper management - is acceptable, so long as they are not legally defined as discriminatory, and the employer is not protected by a contract or union agreement. There is no federal law that requires a company to issue any sort of notification of termination. 

That said, many employers do still provide a termination notice, even though no law necessitates it. In fact, during layoffs, employers will often pay employees through the pay period, or even provide them with severance. This may even happen with fired employees, too. Employers are motivated by compassion and tradition, as well as the desire to avoid lawsuits from former employees.

Despite the lack of a legal requirement, many companies develop a process for managing employee terminations that includes a termination notice. 

When Termination Notice Is Required

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no requirements that a company must give notice to an employee prior to a termination or lay-off.

If an employee is terminated while under contract and is a part of a union or collective bargaining agreement, employers are required to give notice of termination. In some cases, employers are required to give advance notice on account of mass layoffs, plant closure, or other big corporate closures. 

When an employee is terminated or laid-off, there are no regulations requiring employers to give advance notice to the employee unless the employee is covered by an individual contract with their employer or employees covered by a union/collective bargaining agreement.

As a courtesy, some employers will give a notice of termination that lists the date an employee’s contract will end, but this varies from employer to employer and is not a federal requirement. 

Required Termination-Related Notifications

Although some employers may create them, federal laws do not require any sort of written document explaining the actual reason for termination to an employee.

The only termination-related notifications required by the government are enforced by the Consolidated Omnibus Benefits Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).

COBRA protects the rights for health benefits continuation.

Workers and their families that lose their health benefits due to unemployment or other reasons can elect to receive group health benefits for different periods of time. The intent behind COBRA is that an employee (and anyone else in employee's family covered by the employer-provided insurance) will be able to have health insurance while looking for a new position. Americans are eligible for these health benefits on account of many circumstances such as job loss, reduction in employment hours, career transition, death, divorce, and other reasons. 

In addition, the WARN Act provides for notice to workers prior to lay-off. The WARN Act protects employees and their families by enforcing employers with more than 100 employees to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.

Also, some states may have requirements for employee notification prior to termination or lay-off. Check with your state department of labor for regulations in your state. 

Suggested Reading: Termination from Employment | What Is Wrongful Termination?