It’s common in the U.S. workplace to give two weeks’ notice when quitting a job. Many workers are surprised it’s not a law.

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It’s common in the U.S. workplace to give two weeks’ notice when quitting a job. Many workers are surprised it’s not a law.

Unless you work on a contract that specifies a job’s end, it’s unlikely you’re required to give advance notice before leaving. But before you quit — or consider it — you should carefully review your employee handbook and any document signed upon hiring.

Most American employees are “at will.” That means employers can let them go for any legal reason at any time. “At will” status works both ways, though. Noncontract workers also can leave a job at their choice of timing.

The idea of two weeks’ notice grew partly because employers wanted lead time to replace departing workers. But attorneys sometimes counsel employers to only request, not demand, advance notice. A demand could imply a contract that might require employers to give similar notice before terminating employees.

If you’re ready to quit a job, here are some reasons to give notice:

• It’s kind to co-workers who suddenly will shoulder more work if you simply disappear. Even with advance notice, they still may be stuck, but it at least gives them a chance to learn your duties, if needed.

• It’s supposed to be kind to your employer. It may maintain a decent relationship. You can shake hands, wish the organization well and hope to pave the way for a good reference.

• It gives you time to handle departure paperwork, clear out your personal effects and, if appropriate, let clients or customers know who’ll take care of them going forward.

Here are some reasons to NOT give advance notice:

• Your employer has a history of firing employees on the spot. Perhaps fearing that proprietary information will go out the door with you, some bosses say goodbye the minute you give notice. It can be a painful, unceremonious departure for you and your co-workers.

• You’ve seen your boss be angry, petulant or vindictive when others have left. You expect it won’t end well no matter when or how you quit. That’s when you balance your mental and financial state to make the best decision for you.

More nitty-gritty: Know your state’s law about final paychecks and service letters. Some states require employers to pay your last paycheck the day you walk out the door, others at the next regularly scheduled pay date. Will you be paid for accrued vacation time or lose it? Will you have to pay back tuition assistance or other benefits? Can you demand a service letter that states your work dates and says you weren’t fired?

Do your homework, then put your notice in writing. One sentence should state that you will leave on a specific date to pursue another opportunity. A second sentence should say thank you for the time on the job. Build, don’t burn, bridges.

And unless you’re looking forward to time off, be darn sure your next “opportunity” is in your hand, in writing.

Email Kansas City Star columnist Diane Stafford at