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02.02.2022

How to handle an employee’s unauthorised absence from work

By Kevin Callan

First published: February 2nd, 2022

Unauthorised absence from work can have a significant impact on your business, both in economical and operational terms.

If an employee is a no-show, it can leave you scrambling for cover or looking for staff to take on an extra workload. And what if the employee fails to notify you why they’re absent even when you try to make contact? What can you do then?

Let’s find out…

What is an unauthorised absence?

An unauthorised absence (absence without leave or AWOL) is when an employee has taken leave without their employer’s approval. Also, the reasons they give for being away are often unacceptable.

The term ‘unauthorised absence’ has no formal legal definition. Yet, it’s generally accepted as a situation where an employee has failed to attend work without the employer’s permission to do so.

An employee may contact you to explain their absence but gives a reason that’s unpermitted under the terms and conditions of their employment contract. For example, an unplanned holiday or last-minute medical appointment. It can even cover absences where you don’t believe the excuse given by the employee.

How to deal with unauthorised absence from work

If an employee is absent from work without prior authorisation, contact them to better understand the reason for their absence. Any lack of contact from an employee who is ordinarily reliable may indicate a problem and should be investigated carefully.

You can contact the employee via their mobile or landline, leaving a voicemail message where at all possible. You might even try an emergency contact number. It’s also good practice to express your concern in writing, asking your employee to contact you at the earliest possible opportunity.

In circumstances where you can’t make contact with the employee, you should immediately discuss the absence with them on their return. How you choose to deal with an unauthorised absence will depend on what explanation the employee provides, both for the absence itself and for their failure to notify you.

You should always consider each situation of unauthorised absence on its own facts. Circumstances may sometimes justify a more lenient and compassionate approach. For example, the sudden death of a close relative or involvement in a serious accident.

There are also the consequences of unauthorised absence from work to consider. If an employee can’t offer a suitable explanation, you may need to consider conducting an investigation and taking formal disciplinary action.

Unauthorised absence from work is also a misconduct offence. Most employers will cite AWOL on a non-exhaustive list of examples of misconduct offences under their disciplinary policy.

Time for an unauthorised absence policy?

You may want to consider a policy to ensure a consistent approach to handling each case of unauthorised absence.

As with absence from work due to sickness, you must consider all the individual circumstances of a particular case before making a decision. For example, if the unauthorised absence is due to adverse weather conditions, look at how reasonable it was for the employee to get to work before deciding what action, if any, to take.

Article: What exactly does a disciplinary procedure consist of?

Get expert guidance on unauthorised absence with Graphite

Handling unauthorised absence can be complicated. But it should always follow the appropriate procedure.

Graphite provides expert guidance on unauthorised absence and other forms of absence. If you have any questions, contact our advice line on 01 886 0350.

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