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Absenteeism is defined as an employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work. Employers accept that employees will be absent on a certain number of days each year but excessive or unplanned absences have a negative impact on productivity and are a source of concern for employers.

Employees have a legal obligation to get to work and to be at work. This obligation arises from their contract of employment where the employee offers their services in return for payment. It is the responsibility of the employee to get to work on time.

As an employer, it is in your own best interest to make sure that employees know what time work starts and ends, what time breaks are, if there are fixed breaks, and how long those breaks are. If you have any sort of flexitime policy in place, make sure that the employee understands exactly how the policy works.

Once your employees know when they should be at work, you also need to inform them of what your expectations are if they are unable to come to work. All companies should have a standard requirement in place – by what time an employee must let the company know they are not coming to work, the method (are they allowed to sms or must they phone) and who they need to inform. Employees should also understand that even if they might not be paid for the day off, they must still inform the company.

An extension of the contractual requirement is the duty to inform the employer why they were unable to report for duty.

This is important as the you should get to know the subtleties of the different time keeping offences if you intend disciplining your employees for time keeping offences.

When disciplining for time keeping offenses, your two most common allegations will be:

  1. Failure to notify:
    The employee has not asked permission to be absent or called the company to inform them of their absence. This is generally a minor offence if the employee is absent for part of a day. A process of graduated warnings can be followed and even though it is considered a minor offence, an employee can still be dismissed if the absenteeism continues.
  2. Unauthorised absence / absence without leave:
    The employee is absent without having requested permission prior to the absence, or fails to provide a valid reason / proof of absence, i.e. a doctor’s certificate etc. This is seen as a minor offense if it is only one day but can be seen as a serious offense if the employee is absent without permission or leave for more than a day.
  3. Absconding/ Desertion:
    Absconding or desertion is a more serious offence and is when an employee is absent without leave or permission, hasn’t notified the employer of their absence and you suspect they may not be returning. The rule of thumb is generally 5 days or more . Employers are within their rights to terminate an employee’s services for absconding once a proper process has been followed.

It is interesting to note that when terminating an absconding employee’s services, it can be considered that they are not being dismissed by the employer, but have in fact terminated their own contract of employment by failing to report for duty for a significant number of working days. This means they will not be able to access unemployment benefits.

There is a process that the employer must follow to remain procedurally fair for an absconding / desertion dismissal. The employer must make reasonable efforts to contact the employee – send a registered letter to their last known address, phone or sms them and instruct the employee to urgently make contact with the employer and/ or return to work. The employer must inform the employee that should they fail to contact the company and/or return to work that a disciplinary enquiry will be held. Include the proposed date and time of the enquiry in the letter. Keep records on the employee’s file of these attempts. If the employee fails to arrive for the enquiry, hold it in their absence. The employer has the right to fairly dismiss this employee so long as a fair procedure has been followed.

Our recommendation is to be a reasonable employer in all circumstances so don’t be too hasty to dismiss without first following a fair procedure. Remember that you are not paying this employee while they are absent. Follow the process, be fair and allow the employee the opportunity to state their case. If you have a formalized procedure, make sure that you follow it.

Please do not hesitate to contact Human Alliance should you need assistance, support or guidance with your HR related matter.

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