What can happen to me if I want to quit my job before my contract term is over?

I work for a small private business. My employment contract states that
the Term of employment begins from September 2015-August 2017. I
want to leave the company due to personal reasons and a very hostile
working environment at the company. I am having to work more than what
my job description entails and it is causing me health problems. Do I have
the right to leave before the term is over?

Asked on May 11, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, neither personal reasons nor a hostile working environment provide legal grounds to breach your employment contract: contractual obligations generally are binding regardless of your personal situation; and employment is allowed to be a hostile, stressful place--legally, nothing is improper or wrong if your workplace is hostile.
If you breach the contract and the contract specifies some penalty (e.g. repayment of relocation costs or a recruiting/hiring fee or a signing bonus), then you have to pay what the contract indicates. 
If the contract does not indicate a penalty, then if your employer suffers a loss due to your breach, they could sue you for it. For example: say you earn $25/hour; if you quit, to replace you they have to hire a temp for 3 months, while hiring a new person, and the temp is billed to them at $40/hour from the agency; they could recover 12 weeks x 40 hours per week x $15 hour (the difference in cost) from you, or around $7,200. Other possible things they could recover would be their recruiting fee to hire or replace you, or if they lost business due to you leaving early, that loss.
If they don't actually lose some demonstrable amount, they would most likely not be able to recover any money from you, unless, as stated, the contract provided for a specific penalty.

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