Unauthorised absence

An employee, who is unexpectedly absent from work, without prior authorisation, and who fails to make contact to explain the absence can cause serious operational difficulties. The employer, who does not know when the employee is likely to return, if at all, may feel justified in making the assumption that the employee, by virtue of his/her conduct, has effectively resigned from the company. This can, however, be a risky course of action. Where the employer makes such an assumption and the employee has not expressed an intention to resign, an employment tribunal is likely to take the view that the employee has in fact been dismissed.

All employees should be required to notify their supervisor/manager at the earliest opportunity on the first day of absence. The procedure for notifying absences should be widely communicated.

Unauthorised absence, without good cause and failure to notify the employer in accordance with the notification procedure should be dealt with as a disciplinary matter. If disciplinary action for unauthorised absence results in dismissal, the employer must be able to demonstrate that the decision to dismiss the employee was fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. In the case of unauthorised absence, this means the employer making strenuous attempts to contact the absent employee (and making a record of these efforts) and giving the employee every opportunity to respond and explain his/her absence. It will also be necessary for the employer to follow the statutory dismissal and discipline procedure. Employers should incorporate the three step statutory procedure in the letters sent to the absent employee prior to dismissal.

Establishing contact

On the first day of unauthorised absence, you should attempt to make contact with the employee by telephone. Try the employee’s home number (land line) first and if this is unsuccessful try the employee’s mobile number. If necessary, leave messages on answer phones or with family or housemates. All attempts to contact the employee, even if the phone is not answered, should be documented. Make a note of the telephone number, the time you made the call and any message you left.

If initial attempts at making contact are not successful, try any emergency contact details (next of kin perhaps) which the employee has provided on the commencement of their employment.

When the employee returns to work

If you are successful in contacting the employee and the employee returns to work, a return to work interview should be held to establish the reasons for the absence and why the employee has failed to follow the absence notification procedure.  If the employee is unable to offer a reasonable explanation for their actions or absence then the matter should be dealt with as misconduct. A disciplinary hearing should be arranged, in accordance with the company’s formal discipline procedure. For detailed guidance on discipline, please see Discipline Section.

When all attempts to make contact are unsuccessful

If all attempts to contact the employee fail and he/she is still absent from work on day two, write to the employee. The letter should confirm the dates of the unauthorised absence, outline the attempts which have been made to contact the employee and request that the employee contacts the employer to explain the absence. A specified timescale for the employee to respond, usually within two to three days, should be set allowing reasonable time for the letter to be delivered.

The letter should also advise the employee that unauthorised absence, without good cause or explanation, is viewed by the company as serious misconduct, which may result in formal disciplinary action, including dismissal.   Send the letter by recorded delivery (this may incur a charge from the post office).  This requires the letter to be signed for at the delivery address and allows for the progress of the letter to be tracked via the internet. For a suitable letter please see Letter confirming unauthorised absence (1).

If the employee fails to respond to the letter, within the given timescale, you should ring the ABDO HR Advice Line for advice on how to proceed.

You must be able to demonstrate that all reasonable attempts have been made to contact the employee and that the employee has had the opportunity to provide the company with an explanation and justification of his/her conduct. You should therefore send the employee a second letter. The second letter should invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing, in line with your company’s formal discipline procedure. If you are considering dismissal, the letter should incorporate the statutory dismissal and discipline procedure.

Make it clear in your letter that failure to attend may result in the hearing taking place in the employee’s absence and that dismissal is a possible outcome. If your first letter referred to possible summary dismissal, make sure that the second letter also makes it clear that this could be the outcome. The letter should inform the employee that he/she has the right to be accompanied at the hearing by a work colleague. It should also refer to the employee’s right to appeal. For a suitable letter please see Letter confirming unauthorised absence (2).

For more information about the statutory dismissal and discipline procedure, please see Discipline Section.

If the employee fails once again to respond to the letter and attend the formal hearing, the hearing should be conducted in the employee’s absence. If a decision is made to dismiss the employee, a letter should be sent to the employee confirming the outcome and giving the employee the right to appeal against the decision, in line with the Company’s disciplinary procedures. For a suitable letter please see Letter confirming dismissal (unauthorised absence).