How to Manage Unauthorised Absences

Employees have a legal right to be absent from work for things such as annual leave and maternity leave. If they have an unauthorised absence, what should you do? Below are some key tips on how to handle some of the most common absence scenarios.

Unauthorised Absence: When the employee does not turn up to work and does not provide an explanation.

  • Make every effort to contact the employee to ascertain the reasons for their unauthorised absence.
  • If the employee claims to be unfit for work. Reminded the staff member of the sickness absence reporting procedures. Ask that they comply with the procedures.
  • If you are unable to contact the employee. Try their next of kin in order to try and satisfy yourself of the employee’s wellbeing.
  • If you are unable to make contact or if the next of kin confirms the employee’s wellbeing, you should next write to the employee. Confirm in this letter that you have had no explanation as to the reason for their unauthorised absence. Remind them of the sickness absence reporting procedures. Ask that they contact you urgently to explain the reasons for their absence.
  • Investigate the circumstances around the employee’s absence on their return to work.
  • If appropriate, pursue disciplinary action in line with the company’s disciplinary procedures.

Unauthorised Absence: When the employee takes a suspicious period of sickness absence, e.g. where it occurs at a time which the employee has previously submitted a request for leave, which was refused.

  • Ensure that the employee complies with the sickness absence reporting procedures including submission of a fit note where applicable.
  • Hold a return to work meeting with the employee at which the circumstances around their sickness absence are discussed. This may be documented and will double up as an investigation meeting at which the employee’s feedback to the suspicions is sought.
  • Where there is a medical certificate from a doctor then, in the absence of any other compelling evidence to the contrary it will be difficult to prove that an employee’s period of sickness absence was not genuine. Otherwise, you may be able to pursue disciplinary action in line with the company’s disciplinary procedures.
  • In all circumstances, keep a file note of these absences. If a pattern starts to emerge it can be recognised and dealt with accordingly. A pattern may provide the compelling evidence required to deal with this as a disciplinary matter on a future occasion.

Unauthorised Absence: The employee requests time off to care for a dependant.

  • There is a statutory right to time off for dependants leave. However, the entitlement is to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency situation and make longer-term arrangements.
  • Discuss the circumstances with the employee to ascertain if they amount to an “emergency”.
  • This may include caring for a child when they fall suddenly ill or where there has been an unexpected interruption to a child’s care arrangements. It is unlikely to include pre-planned absences to attend an appointment with a dependant for example.
  • You should also try and ascertain how long the employee intends to be off work for. Whether this amounts to a “reasonable” amount of time off will depend on the circumstances.
  • Unless the employee’s contract or company policy documentation states otherwise there is no need to pay the employee for the time off.
  • If the time off requested is not reasonable and/or is not in respect of an emergency situation it should not be dealt with as time off for dependants. Consider instead whether some other form of leave could be appropriate to the circumstances such as compassionate or annual leave for example.

Advice should, of course, be sought at each stage in dealing with these matters. Please call our employment advice helpline to speak with an advisor who will be more than happy to discuss individual circumstances with you.