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What do you do when your employee's absent from work for three days without telling you?

by , 18 July 2013
We received an interesting comment from yesterday's article about absenteeism. One of our readers asked if the scenario we gave wasn't actually desertion. In order to clarify this, I thought I'd tell you about the difference between absenteeism and desertion.

One key difference between absenteeism and desertion
With absenteeism your employee does plan on, or shows the intention to come back to work, he's simply off work without prior arrangement. This is unlike desertion where he doesn't intend coming back to work, and so terminates his employment contract.
If your employee's absent for more than three days (in some cases up to five days, depending on your company policy), you can 'assume' he's deserted his job. But this doesn't mean he's deserted! The key aspect of desertion is that  you must prove your employee has no intention of coming back to work.
For example, if your employee doesn't come to work for a full working week (five days) because he's sick in hospital and couldn't contact you, he hasn't deserted his job, he's absent. So you can't dismiss him for desertion because he was off sick and had no means to contact you. In this example he must come back to work with a valid medical certificate. If you have a rule that needs him to contact you before a certain agreed time in case he's sick, discipline him for not following company procedure. He didn't let you know he wasn't coming in.

What you should do to prove your employee's deserted his job
You won't always know immediately if your employee has deserted you so here's three things you can do to find out what's happened to him.
  1. Go through your employee's file. Call their cell phone number, home number and next of kin.
  2. Send him a letter through registered mail or courier. You must keep these records as proof of delivery.
  3. Ask his co-workers if they've heard from your employee. One of them might live in the same area as him and may know why he's not at work.
If, after some time (according to your company policy), you conclude your employee doesn't want to come back to work. You should send a 'Notice of a Disciplinary Hearing' to their last known address.
This notice must include the following two charges:
  • Desertion of work. He showed no intention to come back to work from ____­­______ (the date of first absence).
  • Unauthorised absenteeism. He's absent from work for a long period of time without any arrangement.
If you still don't hear from him regarding the notice or his intention to come back to work, you must go ahead with the hearing as planned.
Please note: It's deemed 'sufficient time' if you give an employee 7 days to respond from the time of you send the notice. This'll allow some time for the letter to be delivered.
When you find he does want to come back to work (by attending his disciplinary hearing or communicating his intention to you), have the disciplinary hearing for absenteeism and overlook the desertion charge.
I hope this explains the difference between absenteeism and desertion. If you have a question you need answered, join the Labour and HR Lunch Hour Chat on the 26th July at 12pm.
Best regards,
Miriro Matema
Product Manager – Practical Guide to Human Resources Management
P.S. Is your employee absent from work? Get your copy of The Stop Absenteeism Report.

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