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Dealing With Absent Employees

It's Friday, the long weekend looms and you really need to have the project for the new client finalised and out by day's end.

The project is exciting, you're anxious to impress the new client and have been at the office since 6am. It is now noon and John, who should be helping you, has still not turned up. This is not the first occasion. Every time you have a deadline he just doesn't show. What should you do?

To prevent frustrations with staff, begin by stating your expectations

If you have deadlines which must be met, it is important that the employee understands at the initial interview. Next, in the employment agreement, set out clearly when an employee can legitimately take time off. This is normally for holidays, statutory holidays, special leave sickness, bereavement and the like. The special leave clause should make it clear that the employee must make contact early on the morning that they intend taking sick leave and that a medical certificate is needed.

Keep your cool

When an employee simply does not turn up and is repetitive, it is important not to lose your cool and to dismiss the employee. You must be fair at all times.

Fairness in our example is to arrange for somebody to find out where the employee is and ask the reasons for absence. If the employee does not have a legitimate reason, then the matter will have to be raised formally upon his/her return to work.

It is important that a meeting is arranged as soon as possible with the employee concerned to discuss the absence on an important day and the apparent failure to have a legitimate reason. If the employee has no excuse then you have to issue a warning. However, if something unexpected made it impossible for the employee to contact you and that explanation is acceptable then that is the end of the matter other than your reminding the employee that it is important for him/her to contact you as soon as possible.

If, on the other hand there is no legitimate explanation, you have to go down the warning track. If John is well aware that his help is absolutely necessary to assist with the project but he just took the day off to make his weekend longer, then that is totally unacceptable and would warrant a written warning which makes your expectations absolutely clear that if it happens again he may be dismissed.

Abandonment

Sometimes an employee fails to show, is absent for a couple of days then reappears. There was no contact and as far as you are concerned he or she has abandoned their employment.

What do you do?

Some agreements have clauses which say that someone who fails to appear for three days without explanation is deemed to have abandoned their employment so the agreement is at an end.

Again, it is important before taking a final step to terminate, or inform the employee that they have abandoned their employment, to carry out a fair process. This involves trying to contact the employee by telephone, then letter (if necessary by courier), asking for their reasons for failing to come to work or contact you. You should give a time for them to come to explain their absence.

If the employee fails to attend then there is little more to do than write to the employee informing them that their employment is deemed to be abandoned.

In this circumstance, can the employer take action against the employee? Most employers are not bothered, but it is possible under the Employment Relations Act for the employer to file a "statement of problem" with the Employment Relations Authority.

An employee has obligations to give notice under an employment agreement. By abandoning they effectively resign without notice. An employer can seek a penalty or damages for a breach.

Tips on Absentees
  • Check employees understand your expectations.
  • Specify in the agreement
    1. if sick leave is taken, contact must be made by 10am or earlier
    2. if the employee is away three days or more then they are deemed to have abandoned employment.
  • Request a meeting and an explanation.
  • Enter warning procedure for unacceptable explanations.
  • If acceptable, emphasise the obligation to inform you promptly.
  • Try to contact missing employees - if need be by a couriered letter requesting a meeting.
  • You can file an employment relationship problem against a missing employee.

Our thanks to Anna Fitzgibbon for this article.

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