Employment Law

My employee has gone AWOL – what can I do?

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My employee has gone AWOL – what can I do?
What is AWOL?

AWOL (“absent without leave”) is when your employee does not turn up to work as expected. This can be a common issue faced by employers and may amount to misconduct on the part of the employee. It is important to know what to do should this happen.
Whether it’s a new starter who has not turned up for their first day, or a reliable employee, An AWOL employee  can make for a stressful situation, particularly if you have concerns over their wellbeing, or if they have a habit of turning up late to work. Unexpected absences can affect the smooth running of your business.
So, what should you do when an employee goes AWOL?

Contact your employee

The first (and most obvious) thing you should do is to try to get in touch with the employee as soon as possible.It is important not to jump to the conclusion that your employee has simply decided not to turn up for work, as there could be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps there are personal issues which made it difficult for them to turn up to work, such as emergency childcare issues or a medical  emergency.  Try to contact them directly, including contacting their emergency contact person if you have these details.
Make a note of any attempts to contact your employee or any conversations that you have with them. If it does become a disciplinary issue, these notes will help show that you took reasonable steps to contact them, and- if you do manage to get in touch with them- it will record what was said and any reason for their absence.
You should also try to contact them through other means, such as an email, text message or a letter by post (if appropriate).

Consider disciplinary action

If you have been unable to contact your employee or have managed to contact them and they haven’t provided a reasonable excuse for their absence, you might wish to consider disciplinary action. Depending on the reason for the absence, you might wish to consider a warning or dismissal. In cases where you have been unable to contact your employee after having taken the reasonable steps  outlined above, you may only be left with the option to dismiss them.
If you decide to dismiss your employee,  you will need to be able to show that you have a fair reason to dismiss them and that you have followed a fair procedure before a dismissal.
The procedure you need to follow will depend on the individual circumstances, and in particular, how long the employee has been employed by you. Employees gain protection against unfair dismissal once they have been with you for two years. Where service is less than two years, dismissal generally carries less risk as the employee cannot bring a claim for unfair dismissal. However, it’s important to remember that an employee does not need to have two years’ service to bring a claim for discrimination. So, you should explore the reason for the absence before making a decision to dismiss. For instance, their failure to turn up to work could be related to a disability.
This of course needs to be considered in the context of being unable to communicate or contact your employee, and there will come a point where as an employer you can make a decision in the employee’s absence.

Author: Anna Schiavetta, Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths
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