Q: We are updating our employment policies and plan to include a requirement that employees give at least two weeks' notice if they decide to resign. It occurred to us that in some instances we might want the resigning employee to leave immediately. Could we do that, and if we did, would we have to pay the person until his or her stated resignation date?
A: As long as you have a clear employment-at-will policy statement, including a stipulation that "policies are subject to change, advisory in nature, and not contractual commitments," you are always free to specify an employee's final date of employment. But as in life generally, choices come with consequences.
Company policies seeking advance notice of resignation are generally intended to permit appropriate planning for an orderly transition and obtaining assistance from the departing employee with such matters as staffing changes, reassignment of responsibilities, and finalizing work in progress.
Following that approach, a resigning employee should be advised of the accepted final date of employment through which he or she will be paid, with an understanding that employment until that time is premised on satisfactory job performance and professional conduct.
Alternatively, there are times when continued employment of the resigning worker is undesirable due to confidentiality or loyalty concerns, such as with an employee in a sales position who may be leaving to work for a competitor, or possibly because the advance resignation notice given is for such a long period of time: for example, several months: that it's simply impractical and potentially disruptive to allow a protracted transition period.
In any of these cases, you may ask the person to leave sooner, or even immediately, and pay him or her only until the last day of actual employment.
Be aware, however, that doing so may turn a voluntary quit: where the employee is ineligible for unemployment benefits: into an involuntary discharge, making the employee eligible for unemployment benefits.
You might also consider two other approaches that can preserve the separation as a voluntary quit. You might, for example, negotiate a more suitable resignation date somewhere between the employee's preferred departure date and yours.
Or you could pay the employee through the resignation date, explaining that he or she need not report for work any longer but should be available should you need to discuss any transition issues.
In both situations, you are preserving the voluntary quit but avoiding some of the personnel/personal issues, albeit at an expense of some continued wages in the latter example.
That expense may worthwhile, particularly if it means you are protecting significant company assets/proprietary interests or avoiding continued dealings with an undesirable worker. And you might even admit that absorbing the charge for an unemployment claim can be a small price to pay for ridding your workplace of a negative influence.