On Friday I went to a meeting in Lancashire. It being only the middle of June, I wore a winter suit and lobbed a coat onto the back seat. My colleague Derek took similar precautions. The journey to Rossendale was OK; grey, but fairly dry. But coming home - oh my goodness! It rained so hard on the M6 near Knutsford Services, it looked as though the dam-busters had been at work.
It’s only five days to the longest day and it doesn’t feel that we’ve had any summer at all. After several years of disappointing summer weather, sun-starved employees have been going on holiday abroad early to escape the dismal weather. Some will have used their quotas for the year up to now because of the particularly long winter we experienced. The temptation to stay on that bit longer could be overwhelming for some and every year we are asked to deal with cases of employees who simply don’t come back on time after their summer holiday. How can you ensure staff come back rather than staying on the beach or wandering round the ruins of ancient Minoan palaces, depending on your holiday preference?
Most people know what is expected of them when they book time off work to go away on holiday and fortunately most people do come back on time. It’s always a good idea to have clear guidance which makes it clear that returning late from holiday is an unauthorised absence, which could result in disciplinary action.
If an employee fails to return to work after a period of annual leave and has not made contact in advance, try to contact him on the first day of absence. When you send emails or leave messages for the employee, bear in mind that there may be a genuine reason for the unauthorised absence, such as an accident, so try not to sound accusatory in the first instance.
If you can’t reach the employee, write to him saying that he is absent without authorisation and setting a deadline for contact, failing which a disciplinary hearing will be scheduled. On the employee's return to work, ask him for an explanation. If the employee made contact while he was still away, find out a bit more about the explanation already given.
Carry out an investigation before deciding whether or not to explore matters formally. As part of this you can ask for evidence that the original travel arrangements fell within the authorised holiday period, such as a copy of the booking confirmation. If you are satisfied there is a case to answer you can take matters forward to the formal disciplinary process.
The employee may say that he could not return on time because of illness. Even on holiday, the employee should notify you of his incapacity for work. It may be that the employee says that another member of the holiday party was ill or suffered an accident causing a delay to his return. If so think about the employee's relationship to the person and whether or not it was reasonable for him to remain with that person; it may qualify as time off for dependants.
You are entitled to expect the employee to make reasonable attempts to notify you that he will not be returning to work at the allotted time. What constitutes a “reasonable attempt” may depend partly on the reason for absence and partly on other circumstances. If it is not possible for the employee to phone you, a text message or email may be appropriate, and would be better than no notification at all, even if you do not normally accept such a method of notification of absence.
Bear in mind that the treatment of employees who return late from holiday, including whether or not they are subjected to disciplinary action, must be appropriate to the circumstances.
The degree of seriousness of the offence will depend on the circumstances. For example, an employee who shows up to work a week late having made no attempt to contact you and whose only explanation is that he missed the flight because of poor organisation could potentially be dismissed for gross misconduct, provided that you follow a fair procedure. Your position in cases of this nature will be strengthened where you have set out clearly your expectations regarding contact where employees are delayed on return from holiday.
In the meantime, it’s raincoats on for another June day!
If you need help sorting out absent or erring employees, give us a call.
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