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Abandonment of employment

Published December 7, 2017 (last updated on June 12, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

An employee is considered to have abandoned their employment if he or she stops showing up to work without explanation, or does not return to work after a period of authorised leave. It is easy to assume an employee who has taken unauthorised leave has ‘left for good,’ however, this is not always the case and it is crucial employers investigate the matter before jumping to conclusions.

During a heated argument or confrontation, an employee might say or do something that gives off the impression they want to resign. When an employee leaves in this fashion, emotions are probably running high and it is important to find out what they actually want to do.

In all cases of abandonment, it is the employer’s responsibility to find out why the employee has been absent and if they intend on returning to work. Failure to try and contact an absent employee could result in a breach of duty.

Job abandonment law

There is no law or legislation defining the number of days an employee can take unauthorised leave before they can be dismissed on fair grounds. The number of days an employee can take unauthorised leave depends on their employment agreement and company handbook.

For most job abandonment policies, it is reasonable to dismiss an employee who has been absent without explanation for 14 working days. However, some company policies can have 10 days or even less.

How to manage an absent employee

When an employee has been absent without explanation for more than one working day, employers should take all reasonable steps to contact the employee.

First, attempt to contact the employee via phone or email and reach out to their next of kin. It is also worth asking other workers if the absent employee has tried to contact the organisation. If these steps are unsuccessful,  it may be necessary to start a formal process in an attempt to establish where the employee is, and whether they intend to return to work.

Dismissing an absent employee

If the employer has not been able to make contact or the employee fails to respond, the employer can notify them via phone or email – and send a written letter to the last known address – stating they are planning to end their employment. Unless the employee responds within a certain timeframe, their employment will end due to abandonment of work.

If there is still no response from the employee, follow-up via phone or email and state in writing the employment has been terminated on the fair grounds of abandonment.

Be sure to keep records of all attempts to communicate with the employee. This evidence will help defend against any dispute claims. These records can also assist with managing unauthorised leave as a form of misconduct.

What employees need to know

Sometimes an employee will have a good reason for being absent from work and unable to contact their employer. This can happen if the employee has a medical emergency, no access to phone reception or, in extreme cases, has been incarcerated.

Regardless of the reason for abandoning work, employees should make every effort to contact their employer or entrust someone else to do it on their behalf.

Abandonment of employment policy

Employers must have a job abandonment policy in their company handbook. This policy should clearly explain the number of days an employee can take leave without explanation before they can be dismissed on the basis of abandonment.

The policy should also outline who is responsible for making contact with the absent employee, what steps should be taken to manage the situation, and how to dismiss an absent employee on fair grounds.

For advice on cases regarding abandonment of work and creating a job abandonment policy, contact Peninsula on 0800 568 012.

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