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Unauthorised Absence

As a general rule there has to be a valid reason for absence from work. There are a significant number of rights to leave of absence from the work place, some paid, and many unpaid. Some of the most common rights include maternity and paternity leave, holiday, ill health absence, ante natal appointments, dependency leave, jury service and public duties, which all have their roots in statutory entitlement, provided that proper booking and notification procedures are followed.

There will be times when an employee is absent without prior notification or permission. If his absence isn’t pre-booked and he doesn’t give you a reason for the absence it is deemed to be unauthorised. Unauthorised absence includes poor time keeping. Earlier this year an Indian Civil Servant was dismissed after having failed to turn up to work for 25 years (that really is 25 years!). Mr Verma was an Executive Engineer. He finished a shift one day in 1990 and never returned to the workplace. His employee considered him to be wilfully absent two years later but only made a decision to dismiss him almost 25 years after his first absence. This is an extreme case and the rules around Civil Servants in India are likely to be different from UK law.

If an employee is absent without authorisation take action immediately rather than let a small issue get out of hand. If one of the team has not turned up to work and has not provided a valid reason for absence (the death of the goldfish or pet armadillo is not a valid reason for absence but we do come across these types of “dog ate my homework” type of explanation fairly regularly) call him and find out where he is. If you cannot speak to the employee leave a message asking him to get in touch. Send an email and text for good measure. Use empathetic but clear language. If the employee is absent for more than one day and does not make contact follow up. Tell him that his absence is unauthorised and ask him to get in touch.

Unauthorised absence is a matter of misconduct. If the absence continues start by investigating the issue. Work colleagues may well know where he is and social media is often a good indicator as to where someone is and what an absentee has been doing. Once an investigation has been completed write to the employee inviting him to a formal discipline hearing. It may be appropriate to reschedule the hearing if the employee does not turn up. You don’t pay him if he does not appear and ultimately you can hear the case in his absence.

If an employee is absent without good reason for one day it may not be appropriate to dismiss. Depending on what your discipline procedure says persistent unauthorised absence may be a matter of misconduct or gross misconduct. If then employee continues to be absent or often takes days of unauthorised absence then dismissal may be appropriate. Each case will depend on the facts.

An employee may belatedly submit a sick note to cover his period of absence. The employee has a duty to notify you of his absence in the correct way. If this is the case it may be a matter of capability rather than conduct and you are expected to investigate the matter before deciding on what action to take, though this may still include disciplinary action if appropriate.

When an employee is absent without good reason it should not be a matter of out of sight, out of mind. Deal with it on day one, not 25 years later.

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