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What's desertion... really?

by , 23 July 2013
If your employee's absent without permission for more than three days (depending on your company policy) and you haven't heard from him, it's only logical to 'assume' he's deserted his job. But has he really?

Let's look at what desertion is so you won't land up at the CCMA for an unfair dismissal!

What is desertion... really?
Your employee's absent without permission for more than three days. He didn't show up to work and you haven't been able to contact him. You've tried his next of kin and asked fellow employees who live near him but no one knows what's happened! At this point, you've got no clue why he isn't coming to work or when he'll be back. This can be frustrating to any employer because you've goals and deadlines to meet. What's more, you can't read your absent employee's mind to know if he ever intends to come back to work.

It's clear you've got a business to run and you can't sit at the phone waiting to hear from him! So what's your next logical step? Replace him I'm sure! But wait, not so fast! If you assume your employee's deserted and replace him, but he finally comes back to work, You'll be looking into the eyes of the DoL for an unfair dismissal! Believe me, this isn't something you need to be dealing with so let me give you an example of desertion.

Here's an example of desertion
If your employee doesn't come to work for a full working week and you haven't heard from him, you can't dismiss him for desertion. You don't know for sure what's happened to him. You notice his work is unusually clear and all his belongings are gone. You still can't assume he's deserted his job and dismiss him. So you follow your company procedure to prove he's deserted and your employee finally sends you an email to say he won't be coming back to work. Now you know he's deserted!
The key thing about desertion is that you must prove he's no intention of coming back to work. In this example the email your employee sent is proof he's not coming back.
Now that you know what desertion is, how do you deal with it? Turn to chapter D18 of the Labour Handbook. It'll explain all you need to know to stop desertion in your workplace. If you don't have a copy of the Labour Handbook, what are you waiting for?
Best regards,
Miriro Matema
Product Manager – Practical Guide to Human Resources Management

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