HR & Employment · 24 August 2021

Employee not turning up for work: Your options

Employee not turning up to work

If an employee doesn’t turn up for work without prior authorisation, you might refer to them as Absent Without Leave, or AWOL. However, in legal terms, the employee is deemed to be on an unauthorised absence. This is a breach of contract as the employee has broken their contractual agreement to attend work for their contracted hours. But what should you do if an employee doesn’t turn up for work?

In this article, we’ll explore your options when it comes to an employee not turning up for work, as well as the process that you should follow in this situation.

What is unauthorised leave at work?

If an employee doesn’t attend the workplace for their contracted hours and does not contact their employer to provide a reason for their absence, it is an unauthorised absence. You might also hear it referred to as AWOL, absent without leave or absent without permission.

There isn’t a minimum amount of time that an employee needs to be away from work without permission to be classed as an unauthorised absence – whether the employee is an hour late for work or doesn’t attend the workplace for a week, it is an unauthorised absence if the employee hasn’t sought permission from their employer.

Examples of unauthorised leave at work include:

  • Failure to report to the workplace during contracted working hours.
  • Failure to make a request for annual leave.
  • Failure to attend the workplace after an annual leave request has been declined.
  • Leaving the workplace without permission during the working day.
  • Failure to provide medical documentation to support approved medical leave.
Unauthorised absence is misconduct and can lead to disciplinary action. However, there is a process that employers should follow before resorting to disciplinary action. Read on to discover how to deal with an employee who fails to turn up to work, and when disciplinary action might be appropriate.

Why do employees fail to turn up to work?

There are endless different reasons why an employee may fail to turn up for work at their contracted start time. Whilst some of these reasons may seem trivial, others are more significant and may attract leniency from the employer, such as in the case of an accident or a family emergency.

Examples of reasons why an employee may fail to turn up to work include:

  • Emergency: It may be that an emergency has occurred, either with the employee’s family or personally. This may include a death, sudden illness or even an accident on the way to work. It isn’t always possible for an employee to make contact before the start of the working day, especially if the emergency is serious.
  • Illness: Employees should follow company procedures with regards to reporting sickness. If these procedures aren’t followed correctly, an employer may decide to count the absence as unauthorised.
  • Unauthorised holiday: If an employer declines a request for leave, or the employee fails to request leave in the proper way but still takes a holiday, this is classed as unauthorised absence.
  • They’ve quit: In some cases, you may find that an employee just stops attending the workplace, rather than giving the correct amount of notice required by their contract.
  • No good reason: Finally, sometimes there is no apparent reason why an employee fails to turn up to work. It could be that they overslept or wanted a duvet day, or that they had a better offer such as going to the cinema with a friend.
What to do when an employee doesn't turn up to work

What to do if an employee fails to turn up for work

How to best deal with an employee failing to turn up to work will depend on the reason that they have failed to attend and the reason that they have been unable to contact the employer. Whilst it can be tempting to jump to conclusions, it’s important to keep an open mind and follow a clear process for establishing the cause of the absence.

Here is what you should do if an employee fails to turn up to work.

Step one: Attempt contact

When an employee fails to turn up for work without providing a reason, the first thing to do is to contact the employee to find out their reason.

You might wonder how long you should wait after the employee’s contracted start time. You should wait a minimum of 15 minutes, although 30 minutes is ideal. This gives the chance for the employee to arrive late, in case traffic has been a contributing factor.

If you are able to get in contact with the employee, ask them why they’ve failed to attend work and allow them plenty of time to explain. It could be that they have a valid reason for failing to attend work, such as a personal emergency. If they’re running late, ask them when you can expect them in the office and make a note of this.

If your attempt to get in contact with the employee is unsuccessful, wait a further 30 minutes and then try to call them again. If this is again unsuccessful, this is the time to try calling their emergency contact, as they may be able to provide you with useful information if the employee is dealing with an emergency.

Step two: Send a recorded letter

We’ve covered what to do if the employee doesn’t turn up for work. But what if you can’t get in contact and the absence spills over into a second day?

On the second day, you should send a letter through recorded delivery to the home address of the employee. A recorded letter will require a signature upon delivery, proving that the letter has been received by the employee.

The recorded letter needs to include:

  • Dates of the shifts that have not been attended by the employee.
  • Details of the unsuccessful attempts you’ve made to get in contact with the employee.
  • That their absence is being treated as unauthorised.
  • Explain that you are concerned for their wellbeing.
  • Whether the absence is being treated as serious misconduct or gross misconduct.
  • Disciplinary actions that may be taken.
  • How and when they should contact you.
After the letter has been received, you should wait 48 hours for the employee to make contact. If you don’t hear from the employee, you should send another letter. However, if the letter could not be delivered, you should contact the employee’s emergency contact once again to ask if they know where the employee may be. If they have not heard from the employee and do not know of their whereabouts, you should contact the police to report the employee as missing.

If the employee contacts you, you should arrange their return to work and consider disciplinary action. If they have sickness note from their doctor, you will also need to hold a return to work meeting to consider whether any adjustments are required to support the employee in returning to work.

Step three: Disciplinary action

Next, you should arrange a disciplinary hearing. You can do this even if there has been no response to your letter. You’ll need to notify the employee of the date and time of the disciplinary hearing by both letter and email, informing them that the hearing will proceed whether or not the employee attends.

For employees who have taken an unauthorised holiday, you should wait until they have returned from the holiday to hold the disciplinary hearing. This will give the employee the opportunity to explain their side and help to prevent any disputes later down the line.

During the disciplinary hearing, you’ll need to follow your disciplinary procedure. This ensures that the process is fair and consistent. The purpose of the disciplinary hearing is to determine whether the absence is classed as gross misconduct and whether it should result in instant dismissal. To do this, you’ll need to consider the length of the absence, the damage that it caused the business and the employee’s previous track record.

Step four: Dismissal

In some cases, you may decide that dismissal is the only option, especially if you can’t get in contact with the employee. Before deciding to dismiss an employee, you should ensure that you have thoroughly investigated the situation and considered every possible option.

If dismissal is required, you’ll also need to ensure that you have solid evidence to explain your decision. This may include the employee’s Bradford Factor score, details of the attempts that you’ve made to contact the employee, logs of any communication and the employee’s timesheets.

Carefully consider how you dismiss the employee, as this reflects on your business. However, if you are seen to be too lenient in cases of misconduct, it could lead to other employees using the opportunity to go down a similar path. Whatever course of action you decide to take, the most important thing is that you are consistent and fair, whilst maintaining the integrity of your business.



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