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Unauthorised absence: How to manage it
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It’s 10am and you’ve still not seen or heard anything from your employee. What should you do?

Your initial response will likely be one of concern, and you’ll be eager to check in with them to make sure they’re okay. But what if you still can’t get hold of them? What if they’d previously requested this day as annual leave, had it declined, but decided to take the day off anyway? What rights do you have as an employer to manage this sort of behaviour?

We’ll explore the solutions to the issues that arise around unauthorised absence in this post.

What does unauthorised absence mean?

Unauthorised absence is when an employee doesn’t turn up for work as expected and has not provided a reason for their absence.

In contrast, some examples of authorised absence are:

  • if they have booked the time off as holiday or to attend an appointment
  • if they have contacted you on the morning of their absence to report sickness
  • if they are on maternity, paternity or shared parental leave.

How to deal with unauthorised absence

Step 1: Address unauthorised absence in your employment policies

The first step in managing unauthorised absence is avoiding it happening to begin with. You can do this through clear, well-written employment policies that outline your expectations around requesting and reporting leave and absence.

  • Sickness Absence Policy and Holiday Policy: Your policies should make clear how you expect staff to notify you of any sickness, such as how they should get in touch and when by. They should also inform staff about the appropriate process for requesting time off as holiday, and how these requests must be approved in order for the leave to be taken.
  • List unauthorised absence as a form misconduct in your disciplinary policy: You should make your employees aware that unauthorised absence is unacceptable and could lead to disciplinary action. For clarity, your policy should give examples of what is considered unauthorised absence.

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Step 2: Try to contact the employee

If you’ve not heard from an employee within the time frame specified in your policy, and they’re not on authorised leave, it’s appropriate for you to try to contact them. Try phoning and emailing, and if you fail to reach them within a few hours and you continue to be concerned, you can try to reach their emergency contact.

Step 3: Keep notes

Keep an accurate record of your attempts to contact the employee, including times of calls and any voicemails left.

Step 4: Send a warning letter and invite to a disciplinary meeting

If you’re unable to reach them via phone or email after two days and are unable to speak with their emergency contact or get a useful update from them, the next step is to send them a warning letter for unauthorised absence. This letter should invite them to a disciplinary meeting (you will need to provide 48 hours’ notice of this).

Step 5: Hold a disciplinary meeting

If they fail to attend this meeting, it’s recommended to invite them to a second, rescheduled meeting. This invite should notify them that if they fail to attend, the meeting is likely to go ahead regardless and a decision may be made in their absence.

If the employee does attend the disciplinary meeting and is able to provide a good reason for the unauthorised absence, you should reiterate the process for reporting absences, inform them that a file note will be added to their employee record and if there are further instances of taking unauthorised absence then you may consider further formal action.

Dismissing an employee for unauthorised absence

One day of unauthorised absence is unlikely to warrant dismissal, but if an employee continues to take days of unauthorised absence, and you have followed your disciplinary procedure for misconduct, holding formal meetings and issuing written warnings, then it may be appropriate to proceed to dismissal.

Investigation questions for unauthorised absence

The main questions you’ll need to ask when investigating an employee who’s been absent without authorisation are:

  • Why were you absent?
  • Why did you not call in to notify us of your absence?

If they can provide good reasons to these questions, and this isn’t a regular occurrence, reiterate your policy and inform them that they must notify you of future absences. Explain that repeatedly failing to do so could lead to disciplinary action.

Even if you’re sceptical of their explanation, unless you can categorically prove that it’s false – for example, if an employee posts about what a great time they had that day on a social networking site, or was seen out watching an event or celebrating –you should still accept it. Without sound evidence, you must avoid making any assumptions. If the pattern of behaviour becomes repetitive, however, even after you’ve cautioned them against it, you might want to progress to disciplinary action.

Get HR Support

If you’re unsure if an employee’s absence should be considered unauthorised, and whether to begin disciplinary action against them, our HR consultants can help.

Get in touch on info@citrushr.com or give us a call on 0333 444 0165 to find out more about how we can help your business with friendly, expert HR support.

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The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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