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What you need to know if you want to quit a fixed-term contract early

Published 27 June 2022

At one time or another we have all committed to something before changing our mind, but what happens if you do it after accepting a fixed-term contract?

The idea of working for a specified period of time, or on a specific project of your choosing can be appealing.

Knowing the precise date you will finish the job means you know exactly when your employment will end and, initially, you readily accept that and commit to it.

But for any number of reasons you may find yourself in a position where you want to quit a fixed-term contract early.

You may want to leave prematurely because you feel uninspired, fall out with colleagues or a permanent opportunity becomes available elsewhere. Regardless of the reason, you can leave the contract early - as long as you do it in the right way.

Employees are on a fixed-term contract if both of the following apply: they have an employment contract with the organisation they work for; their contract ends on a particular date, or on completion of a specific task, e.g. a project [1 cited 27.6.22].

When you accept a fixed-term deal you should be given the terms and conditions of the role in writing. These are the elements of a contract defining the employment relationship between you and the employer.

The legal parts of a contract are known as ‘terms.’ An employer should make clear which parts of a contract are legally binding. If there’s nothing clearly agreed between you and your employer about a particular issue, it may be covered by an implied term - for example: employees not stealing from their employer [2 cited 27.6.22]

It means that when you take on a job role for an agreed period of time, you are aware of your responsibilities going forward, and are clear on any rules and regulations regarding the job.

As with most employment contracts, you can usually leave a fixed-term contract early, but it does depend on your agreed terms.

If the contract contains a notice provision, you should adhere to it. When you leave any job you will usually have to work a notice period.

It is the amount of time you have to work for an employer after you resign. The length of your notice period will depend on how long you have worked for your employer or what is in the employment contract [3]

Your fixed-term contract may not specify a notice period, and you may quickly decide the job is not for you. In certain situations you may be able to quit early without any ramifications.

Where there is no notice provision in a contract of employment, an employee who has worked for an employer for less than a month, legally does not have to give notice.

But most fixed term contracts will include a notice stipulation. For example, a 12-month agreement can include a clause that allows it to be terminated at any time after the first six months on four weeks’ notice.

And be warned, should you opt to terminate a fixed-term contract and not abide by its notice clause there could be serious consequences.

Terminating a contract early when a set notice period is in place can constitute a breach of contract [4 cited 27.6.22]

If you act in breach of any contract, an employer can pursue you for damages. Although it can only be in respect of financial loss which it has suffered as a result of your breach.

If you do not want to work the notice period stated in your fixed-term contract, discuss it with your employer as you may be able to negotiate and reach an agreement that means you do not have to do so.

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