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A much needed clarification: How to distinguish absenteeism from desertion

by , 31 March 2015
Do you know when an employee's absence changes from absence without permission (AWOL), to actual desertion? In case you don't, we want to tell you that courts see these as two separate offences, and so must you.

Here's why...

What's the difference between absenteeism from desertion?

Absenteeism is generally a short period of time off without the employee getting permission. In this case, he also shows clear indications that he isn't deserting or absconding.

This is an important aspect to keep in mind.  

Desertion is also unauthorised absence, but in this case there's evidence to suggest that he's never returning to work.

For example:
• His locker or desk's empty;
• He's just been paid his normal wages and annual bonus;
• His co-workers don't know where he is. Or he's told them he's not coming back to work;
• You try contact him but he doesn't respond; and
• He isn't living at the address you have for him any more etc.

This means that, to confirm desertion, you must look for proof that he doesn't intend to return to work.

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The abscondment solution you've been waiting for

AWOL! Your guide to dealing with employees who abscond is a step-by-step guide on the process you need to follow to make sure you deal with absconded employees correctly and effectively.

With it, you can confidently deal with absconding employees while protecting yourself and your company from an unfair dismissal case.


You should know that absenteeism without permission or AWOL is a disciplinary offence

You must deal with it as misconduct! Dismissal is normally too harsh for a first offence. But for repeat unauthorised absences, or for an unreasonably long time, you can dismiss him.

However, keep in mind that if an employee plays a key role and his absence holds up production and causes major loss, you can dismiss him. He also needs to justify his absence!

Here's an example so that there is no misunderstandings on this subject:

Tom works as a security guard. He works the night shift at a warehouse. His supervisor decides to visit to the site at 22:30, but Tom isn't in the security hut. He isn't patrolling the warehouse premises as required on an hourly basis.

The supervisor waits for about 30 minutes, until he sees Tom returning with food and a drink. Tom explains that he usually brings his 'lunch' to work. But he forgot, so he went to the nearest petrol station with to buy food. They hold a disciplinary hearing. Tom admits he can contact the control room via telephone or radio. But he didn't call to get permission or help in getting his food.

They give Tom a first written warning for unauthorised absence, because the client's premises were at risk for about 50 minutes.

So this example is a case of absenteeism, not desertion. The courts regard dismissal as too harsh for a short absence where there's reasonable explanation for it.

P.S. Don't forget, bookings for the B-BBEE Amended Codes Workshop are open. Make sure you know how to implement the new codes before it's too late! Click here to find out more.

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