Can I Quit My Job if I Signed an Employment Contract?

Nov 28, 2022
By Peter Friedmann

Yes. You have an undeniable right to quit your job at any time for any reason. No one can force you to work against your will.  However, your contract likely dictates whether you need to give notice to your employer before resigning, along with describing what occurs if you leave your job before the employment period ends.

Below, we take a look at some key questions that you may have about what happens if you break a work contract, how employment contracts impact your ability to quit, and what consequences you may face.

The main purposes of an employment contract are:

  • To establish a legally binding agreement. The contract protects both the employee and employer by spelling out each party’s duties and obligations.

  • To provide important details upfront. This creates transparency around compensation, benefits, work schedule, policies, termination terms, and more.

  • To set expectations for the job. The contract lays out duties, workplace rules, performance objectives, and anything else relevant to the role.

  • To clarify conditions that differ from default laws. Employment is often regulated by employment standards and labor laws. Contracts can customize terms like probation periods, non-compete clauses, etc.

  • To protect confidentiality and intellectual property. Contracts frequently contain non-disclosure agreements and IP ownership clauses.

Are Employment Contracts Legally Binding?

Yes, employment contracts are legally binding. An employment contract details the responsibilities of both parties involved and should be read carefully before signing. A basic employment contract lays out what someone is hired to do, what they will be paid, and other terms such as the length of employment, hours, and benefits. An employment contract can also include clauses such as non-disclosure and non-compete agreements, trade secret provisions, and details about termination.

As a legally binding document, a party who breaches the agreement may face consequences. Before signing a contract, consider having an employment contract lawyer look over your agreement to ensure that you fully understand the provisions included.

What happens if you quit a contract job?

You must understand that quitting can have consequences. Ohio law allows employers to fully enforce the terms of employment contracts they enter into with employees.

Because of that, your former employer may be able to dictate how much money you may receive after you quit and whether you can immediately accept a position with one of your former employer’s competitors or clients. Each employment contract is different, so it is important to consult with an employment lawyer to understand what happens if you resign, based on your employment contract.

Can You Quit a Contract Job Before Start?

In some cases, an employee may want to quit the job before they even start working. This raises an important question – if you sign a contract for a job, can you legally quit before your start date?

In most cases, you can legally quit a job before you start, even if you’ve signed an employment contract. However, this will likely burn bridges with the employer and could have consequences.

Quitting after accepting a job offer but before starting work is not illegal. Employment contracts are generally not enforceable prior to beginning work. This means you cannot be forced to actually work for an employer if you change your mind, even if you signed a contract.

However, quitting at the last minute could be considered a breach of contract. The employer may pursue legal action to recoup any training costs, sign-on bonuses, relocation fees, or other expenses spent on hiring you.

Your reputation may also suffer if you renege on an accepted job offer. This could hurt your chances of being hired by the same company again. The employer may also share your decision with connections in the industry, impacting future job prospects.

While quitting prior to your start date is typically legal, it has consequences. Consider the effects on professional relationships, financial costs, and industry reputation first. Provide as much notice as possible if your situation necessitates quitting before you begin employment.

Can I Quit a Contract Job Before the Contract Expires?

Your ability to quit before your contract ends will depend entirely on each situation and the provisions of your contract. You will need to refer to the contract provisions that discuss termination and separation of employment.

If you wish to terminate your employment contract, you should follow the terms of the contract. The termination clause will dictate how you go about terminating your employment, so it is crucial to understand what steps you need to take to ensure that you do not violate the contract – whether you are resigning from a teaching position, an executive position, or any other position where a contract exists.

Can You Quit a Six Month Contract Job?

As discussed above, quitting a six month contract job will depend on your situation and the provisions of your contract.

Non-compete Clauses in Employment Agreements

Many employment contracts in Ohio contain a clause that prohibits workers from taking jobs with competitors, which are referred to as non-compete agreements. The language varies, but these clauses typically seek to stop employees from working for competitors within a specific geographic area (ex: 10 miles from a former employer), taking clients and customers, and soliciting former co-workers to come work for the competitor.

Courts typically enforce non-compete agreements, so do not assume that just because you resigned, your non-compete is void.  This is not true. Courts generally enforce non-compete agreements whether you resign or are terminated. Consult with an employment attorney before going to work for a competitor if you know you are bound by a non-compete agreement.  If you do not, you risk being liable to your former employer for breach of the non-compete agreement.

Can an Employment Contract Be Voided?

Typically, no. If any portion of the employment contract is voided, that does not mean that the rest of the employment contract is void.  In fact, the opposite is true. If a portion of the employment agreement is found to be void for some reason, the remaining provisions are usually still enforceable.

What Happens if You Break a Work Contract?

What can happen if you break a work contract will largely depend on the situation and the clauses of your contract. As discussed above, your work contract will include termination clauses that both you and your employer must follow should one party want to end the agreement or if a breach of contract occurs.

A breach of contract can happen in a number of different ways including:

  • The employee fails to carry out their job duties.
  • The employee shares information covered by a non-disclosure agreement.
  • The employer pays less than agreed or not at all.
  • The employer fails to provide agreed upon benefits.

If you breach a contract by not following the agreed termination clauses, your employer may seek legal action against you – even if you have only breached one part of your employment contract.

For example, your contract may stipulate that either party may break the contract with a certain period of notice. But if you do not provide notice, your employer may seek damages from you.

Are There Penalties for Early Termination of Employment Contracts?

Yes, there can be penalties for early termination of employment contracts. Your employer may attempt to settle the breach of contract informally, but just as you can seek legal remedies against your employer for a breach of contract, so can they. An employer may sue for damages, especially when they have suffered a financial loss.

As we’ve discussed throughout this piece, following the termination clause of your contract is crucial if you want to end your employment. To ensure that you understand the steps you need to follow from your employment contract, consult with an experienced employment attorney. We will be able to offer advice and explain the process that your contract describes.

Connect with The Friedmann Firm for Employment Contract Help

If you need help negotiating, interpreting, or enforcing your employment contract, consider reaching out to an employment contract attorney at The Friedmann Firm. We are available to advise and represent workers all across Ohio, and we offer free consultations. Call us at 614.610.9755 or schedule an appointment online.