Picture this, it is a busy Thursday morning and your Customer Service Representative goes out for lunch and doesn’t come back. You have tried calling them multiple times but haven’t been able to get through. On Friday morning, they don’t show up for work and after calling them again multiple times, you decide to call their next of kin who also doesn’t answer. What can you do and how long is it until it can be assumed that your employee is not coming back to work?

Abandonment of employment is not an issue that arises often however when it does, it can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress for an employer. If not handled carefully though, employers can find themselves in a tricky situation.

What does abandonment of employment look like?

An employee has potentially abandoned their employment if:

  • They leave without notice and are uncontactable, or have no intention of returning, or
  • They do not return after authorised leave, and
  • They do not attend work for multiple days in a row, AND
  • They have provided no reason to their employer.

What do you do first?

Before rushing to any conclusions, it is a good idea to attempt to contact the employee and find out what is going on. There are many reasons an employee may walk off the job or not turn up for work which may include experiencing

  • workplace bullying or violence
  • marital issues, or domestic violence
  • frustration in the job if there’s been limited training or resources provided,
  • burnout, anxiety, overwhelm or depression
  • being involved in a serious incident or accident, or even death.

Finding out exactly why your employee hasn’t shown up for work or has walked off the job can provide the opportunity to find a solution to the problem and where possible, have the employee return to work.

What if they don’t answer the phone?

If you’re unable to get the employee on the phone, it is a good idea to always follow up with an email enquiring about their absence and also their wellbeing. Although you may be angry, upset and annoyed about their absence, stick to the facts and avoid making assumptions about the reason for their absence. If you’re unable to contact the employee, attempt to contact their next of kin if you have their details.

Attending the employees’ home to investigate their absence is NOT appropriate regardless of your intentions. It could pose a risk to your health and safety and risks to the business. If there are concerns for the employee’s health and safety, it is better to contact the authorities to check in on the individual.

How long is long enough before terminating their employment?

It is difficult to determine exactly how long is long enough before the employee’s absence can be considered abandonment of employment. There is no specific timeframe provided regarding abandonment of employment in the Fair Work legislation. However, in the 5 Modern Awards where abandonment of employment is covered, a continuous absence exceeding 3 days without notification or approval would be considered abandonment of employment. However, under some Awards this period is 14 days, so it is best to check your obligations according  to the award the employee is covered by.

When determining the appropriate length of time, it is worth considering:

  • previous work behaviour and absences
  • any physical or mental health concerns for the employee
  • any contact with the employee
  • the employee’s circumstances immediately before the unexplained absence

It is important to check the employee’s employment contract and any workplace policies as these may include the length of time required to wait before considering abandonment of employment.

What to do now the employee isn’t coming back?

Once a reasonable amount of time has passed, the prolonged absence from work would be treated as serious misconduct. There is a formal process to follow, to notify that their employment has been considered abandoned and if they don’t respond by a pre-determined date, their employment will be terminated. If there is no response by the pre-determine date, the individual’s employment would be terminated.

What about employees that just leave with no notice?

Sometimes, employees abandon their employment and tell you they’re leaving, but do not give any notice. Depending on how long the employee has been with you, and what is stated in their employment contract, there are minimum notice periods there are obliged to provide. Keep a look out in the coming weeks for more information on how to deal with employees quitting with no notice.

Abandonment of employment is a complicated area and it is important not to take the situation lightly, especially if there is an indication the employee may return to work. Keeping a record of dates, times, any conversations had and documenting these in emails or letters can help protect the business from potential claims of unfair dismissal, for example, as it shows numerous attempts to contact the employee to try and find a resolution.

If you’re looking for assistance in managing absences or abandonment of employment, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or calling us on 08 6150 0043.

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