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Desertion: Include these three distinctions in your disciplinary code or risk an unfair dismissal

by , 12 May 2016
Desertion may seem like a fairly straightforward concept to deal with. But the truth is that many employers get it wrong. And one of the biggest reasons for this is that they don't deal with it correctly in their disciplinary codes.

Keep reading to see what I mean...


What can you do when you think your employee's gone AWOL?

Your employee hasn't shown up for work all week. And you have no idea if he's ever coming back to work!

You've tried getting hold of him to no avail.

What can you do when you think your employee has absconded?

You have to follow the right process before you dismiss him

Click here to find out how to deal abscondment legally…  

It's all about distinguishing

When many employers draw up their disciplinary codes, they fail to distinguish between the various offences that are very similar to workplace desertion.

This can have devastating consequences, especially when you dismiss an employee. Because if you don't properly distinguish between all the offences around desertion, you could end up unfairly dismissing an employee for a desertion-related offence that didn't necessarily call for it.

Here are the three distinctions you should make in your disciplinary code when it comes to desertion-related offences…

Distinction#1: Unauthorised absence

Unauthorised absence, otherwise known as AWOL, should be listed as a separate offence in your disciplinary code.

It's usually not met with dismissal for a first offence.

NOTE: But if there's an important reason for why an employee should be at work at a particular time, and she's not without a valid reason, then you possibly could dismiss her.

Distinction#2: Failure to notify the company of unauthorised absence

You should make an employee's failure to notify you of an authorised absence as a separate offence to AWOL itself. Because while the employee may be away from work with AWOL, she can still notify you of it via email, SMS or telephone etc.

Distinction#3: Desertion

Finally, we get to desertion itself.

It should be a completely separate offence altogether with a specified number of consecutive days, away from work, laid out in order to determine it. In other words, you can make it clear that unauthorised absence from work, without any notification, for a specific number of days will be seen as desertion.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Now, even though it's up to the employee to notify you, it's still your responsibility, as the employer, to make a reasonable effort in tracking her down. For example, you can send a letter to the last address of hers you had on record. In it you must tell her to report to work by a specified date or contact you if she can't. And that if she doesn't, she'll face dismissal.

If you've not seen her by the date or heard nothing, you may dismiss him for desertion. But if she does come back to work after you have dismissed her, you must give her a chance to explain herself, after which you must seriously consider her reasons. 
*To learn more, go to Chapter D 18: Desertion in your Labour Law for Managers handbook.
If you don't have a copy already, simply click here

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