Unauthorised absence is when an employee fails to turn up for work without having previously booked the time off, or does not contact you on the morning of their absence to report sickness.
Fortunately, not turning up to work without good reason weighs too heavily on an employee’s conscience for it to occur often. But what about those times when 10am rolls around and you’ve still not seen or heard anything from your employee?
Your initial response will likely be one of concern, and you’ll be eager to check-in with them to make sure they’re ok. 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?
How to manage unauthorised absence
The first step in managing unauthorised absence is avoiding its occurrence to begin with. You can do this through clear, well-written employment policies that outline your expectations around requesting and reporting leave and absence.
1) 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.
2) 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.
What to do when an employee is absent but hasn’t called in sick?
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.
Keep an accurate record of your attempts to contact the employee, including times of calls and any voicemails left.
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 letter inviting them to a disciplinary meeting (you will need to provide 48 hours’ notice of this).
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.
When you don’t believe the reason given for absence is genuine
If you have good reason to disbelieve the explanation the employee has provided you for their absence, then this could also be treated as unauthorised absence.
While you should definitely avoid making assumptions about whether or not a sickness is genuine, if you can categorically prove it – 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 – then you would be in your right to instigate disciplinary proceedings for non-genuine and unauthorised absence.
Get HR Support
If you’re unsure if an employee’s absence should be considered unauthorised, and whether to begin disciplinary action against them, it’s always best to seek professional HR advice, so that you can be confident your actions comply with employment law.