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How to deal with unauthorised absences

What is unauthorised absence?

Unauthorised absence is when an employee fails to come in to work without giving a valid reason.

Some examples might be:

  • Taking a holiday which was not approved
  • Taking a sick day but failing to report it

What do you do if someone doesn’t turn up to work?

First off – your business needs to make a reasonable effort to get in contact with the employee. This might involve sending emails, slack messages, making a phone call, or contacting next of kin.

This might sound a bit invasive – but bear in mind that businesses have a duty of care to their employees. It’s relatively common for what appears to be an incident of unauthorised absence to actually be for a very legitimate reason – such as a health emergency. If one of your employees is in trouble, the fact that they haven’t turned up to work might be one of the earliest indicators that something is wrong – so it really is important to make a serious effort to get in touch with them.

At the same time, getting in touch with them in writing (via email, most likely) is also an important step in dealing with unauthorised absences. It’s good practice to inform them that their absence is unauthorised, and asking them to get in touch to explain it, in writing – as it will simplify things further down the line if disciplinary action needs to be taken.

What if I hear nothing – and they miss more days?

Continue trying to get in contact with them. At this point, it might even be a good idea to visit their home to check up on them. Email them again, informing them that the continued unauthorised absence will, without legitimate explanation, be considered a disciplinary issue.

What do I do when they come back to work?

Don’t jump to disciplinary measures immediately. You need to give them the opportunity to give an explanation. There are a variety of issues that might make unauthorised absence – while still problematic – a very different issue. Perhaps they did not explain their absence due to being uncomfortable talking about the cause – such as a sensitive medical issue, or family problem.

In cases like this, don’t be tempted to brush the issue under the rug. Explain that the leave was still unauthorised and therefore a problem, but also explain that you’re not going to be heading down a disciplinary route –  and see how you can make the employee in question more comfortable with reporting issues like this in future.

However, if there is no legitimate explanation for the leave, then it is probably a good idea to consider this an incidence of misconduct. Misconduct like this is usually not a fireable offence alone, but it should probably result in a serious warning. If the warning goes ignored, and another incident of unauthorised absence happens, thinking about dismissing the employee in question is probably a good idea.

An employee failing to show up at work has a serious effect on productivity – not just because their work won’t be getting done, but through the demotivating effect it will have on the people who work with them. Someone simply deciding not to bother turning up to work makes everyone frustrated – understandably so – so it’s not something you can afford to take lightly.

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