Can you end your employment contract early?

For those who daydream about crumpling up their contract, this is what to do instead. (Shutterstock)

Sometimes we need to leave our current employer immediately. But is this legal?

We often find ourselves in situations that no longer serve us, grow us or make us happy. In our professional life, walking away from these situations isn't easy especially when we’re legally and contractually bound. And let’s face it, work sucks sometimes. But it’s when it sucks most of the time that we can't get away from it fast enough.  And it's only then that we realise we’re blocked by the employment agreement.

Read: 9 signs you should get another job

Unfortunately, that’s the thing about agreeing to and signing your employment contract: you never know when you’re going to need it to not exist. But it does exist and not following the correct procedure can have financial and professional consequences you might not want to risk.

These are the ways in which you can get out of the employee contract legally:

1. When the contract date expires

2. When your contractual duties have ended

3. When your boss has given you (the correct amount of) notice

4. If you or your boss hasn't met the duties as specified in the contract

5. When you reject the value your boss’s authority (or him yours)

6. In the event that you die (sorry)

7. If the company becomes insolvent

8. If you’re unable to fulfil your duties

9. If you and your boss both reach an agreement

With this in mind, your best bet is to go over your employment contract, especially the sections mentioning termination, cancellation, and ending the employer-employee relationship. If there's no such thing, use the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 as a guide. Section 37 states:

(a) If you have been employed for 6 months or less, you must give 1 week's notice.

(b) If you have been employed for 6-12 months, you owe your employer 2 weeks' notice.

(c) If you have been employed for more than 12 months, you must give 4 weeks' notice.

(d) If you are a farm worker or a domestic worker and you've been employed for more than 6 months, then you owe your employer 4 weeks' notice.

Can you walk out immediately?

According to the South African Labour Guide, unless your employment contract specifically says "should the employee terminate the employment contract without tendering the written contractual notice period, then the employer will deduct from the final payment to the employee, an amount equal to the period of notice not given" your employer can't deduct outstanding salary for hours owed to them from not working your proper notice period - and you can't be accused of unfair labour practices towards your employer.

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However, when you signed the contract, you agreed that you'll give a certain amount of notice. Not fulfilling this agreement means you've breached the contract and your employer could sue you under common law.

Either way, leaving your employer high and dry is irresponsible and unprofessional. Since you'll need good references when applying for new jobs or if you need to grow your network within your industry, your professional reputation could be tainted. So unless you have good reason to never go back, it's always best to follow the proper procedures.

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