Employment Law

How to Manage AWOL Employees

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How to Manage AWOL Employees

You might think that employees simply leaving work and then never coming back in again would be a rare occurrence, but it is more common than you might think. Some industries are more exposed to this than others, for instance restaurants, the arts and hotels may engage more casual staff and they have many roles where it is easy to switch from one employer to another without the need for any particular skill or qualification.

However, this can happen to any employer operating in any sector, so it’s important to know what basic steps to take should it happen to you.

Attempt to make contact

The first step in this situation should always be to try and make contact with the employee to try and find out why they haven’t shown for work. It’s always best not to rush to any conclusions as there may be an innocent explanation.

This can be particularly important if someone doesn’t turn up to work the day after some sort of workplace incident, because it can be easy to just assume someone has resigned. However, you should still make contact to obtain confirmation that this is the case – especially if someone has over two years’ service as they could bring an unfair dismissal claim – so you are able to manage the situation correctly. Making important management decisions when the situation is ambiguous vastly increases the risk of misunderstandings and tribunal claims so it is always worth clarifying things as much as possible before deciding what action to take.

You should be trying to make contact with the employee via numerous means such as leaving telephone messages, emails and letters. A number of attempts should be made to get in touch because this will put you in a much stronger position should the employee fail to reply.

What if the employee doesn’t respond?

If a week or two has gone by and you have had no response at all to your attempts to make contact, a useful approach is to set a deadline for the employee to respond and note that if they don’t make contact by that date you will assume that they have resigned from their role.

This has a number of benefits in that a) this will almost certainly prompt a response if there’s going to be one and b) if there is a resignation then there is no dismissal so this can reduce the legal risks.

If that deadline then passes without a word you can then simply send out a letter to accept their resignation with immediate effect.

An alternative to this would be to initiate disciplinary proceedings, send all the correspondence out and then run the hearing in the employee’s absence if they don’t respond. This is a lot more work, however, and there would be a dismissal here so it’s slightly riskier.

The employee eventually responds

Should the employee suddenly make contact and confirm then they haven’t resigned then you should attempt to obtain as much information as you can before deciding how to proceed.

Unless there are very good reasons for their absence, disciplinary proceedings would be the most appropriate course of action.

Employee rights during unauthorized leave       

When an employee is not at work when they should be, but they aren’t sick or on holiday and have not cleared this absence with the relevant manager then this is an unauthorized absence.

Having said that, unless and until the employee has resigned, the employment contract will remain intact during their absence. However, there isn’t any obligation to pay an employee who isn’t ready or willing to work so a key consequence is that any unauthorised absence would be unpaid.

The employee would, however, continue to accrue holiday during any period of such absence so this should be included if the employee’s employment subsequently ends and accrued holiday needs to be paid.


In short, if you find yourself dealing with an AWOL employee the best course of action is to avoid making assumptions, put effort in to trying to make contact and then take appropriate action based upon the employee’s behavior.

Author: Jonothan Scollen, Employment Law Advisor at Howarths

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