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This type of offence is very frequent and common. It is a serious offence, because it represents a breach of contract and costs the employer a great deal of money, it causes upset in the workplace because other employees have to pick up the workload of the absent employee.

Depending on the nature and duration, a first offence will not necessarily be a dismissible offence.

The absenteeism could include taking extended tea or lunch breaks, extended toilet or smoke breaks, and things of that nature. Any instance where an employee is away from their workplace without authority constitutes unauthorised absenteeism.

If management does not address this problem, it will only get worse, and eventually, attendance will be out of control.

Where an employer has an effective means of communicating with an employee who is absent from work, the employer has an obligation to give effect to the audi alteram partem rule (listen to the other side or let the other side be heard as well) before the employer can take the decision to dismiss such an employee for their absence from work or for their failure to report for duty. The employer must therefore hold an abscondment hearing before it dismisses the employee, after everything possible has been done to locate the employee.

What to look for:

First, examine the attendance record to establish that the employee was absent from the premises without permission on the dates or days in question. Record the information.

Examine the employee's attendance record for say the last six months, to see if this is a recurring problem or only intermittent or on the odd occasion. Examine the employee’s disciplinary record for previous related offences or other offences of misconduct. Establish the reason for the absence. You might have to do this by interviewing the employee.

Investigate to make sure that the absence was unauthorised.

If possible, obtain evidence, by asking questions around the workplace, to try and establish if the employee was seen in another area on the day, they were absent – for example, in the shopping centre, at the theatre, at the cricket or the rugby, or something like that.

What must the investigator prove at the disciplinary enquiry?

Lead evidence on the etc for the absence, what excuse or reasonable explanation did the employee present? The length of absence is also relevant, the nature of the employee's job, previous warnings, and whether the employee attempted to contact the employer during the absence.

Present evidence of their previous disciplinary history, other warnings, etc. Emphasize the cost of the absenteeism to the company. Show that the absence was not authorised – you may have to call a witness to testify to this effect.

Emphasize also that the employee did not contact the company on the first day of their absence as required by the company policy (or any other breach of policy and procedure relevant to absence).

Absent without leave (AWOL) and not notifying the employer:

How does an employer deal with an employee who stays away from work with or without an excuse and does not notify the employer that they will not come to work?

The first question that needs to be answered is whether the employee was absent with or without a valid excuse. If the employee has a valid excuse, they cannot be found guilty of being absent without leave.

The second question relates to the issue of notification. Would the outcome be different if the employee notifies the employer of their absence? Or put it differently: can an employer dismiss an employee who has an acceptable reason for their absence, but fails to notify the employer of the reasons for the absence? The answer is yes!

An employee should notify management as soon as reasonably possible of the reasons for the absence and its likely duration. While employees are entitled to sick leave, this entitlement does not relieve them of their duty to notify the employer. An employee is guilty of absenteeism if they are absent from work without good reason or, even if there is an acceptable reason for the absence if they fail to inform management timeously of the reason for the absence.

An employee who does not have a valid excuse for their absence is guilty of absenteeism even if they notify the employer of their absence. An employee who has a valid excuse for their absence may be found guilty on a charge of absenteeism if they failed to notify the employer timeously of the reasons for their absence.


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