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Employment Law – Dealing with Unauthorised Absence

The average UK employee is absent from work for 6.9 days of the year. For the most part, these absences are authorised, which means they’re considered ‘valid’ in the eyes of the law. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why your employee might need time off – for example; maternity leave, jury service or illness – to name just a few!

However, problems arise when the absence is unauthorised; when your employee hasn’t sought approval from you, and their reason for being away from work isn’t acceptable.

Here’s a guide, detailing what constitutes an unauthorised absence – and the steps you can take to address the problem.

What is an Unauthorised Absence?

Most authorised absences are a statutory entitlement. Simply put, that means your employee has a legal right to take leave in certain situations. Of course, they’re still required to provide you with notification, and should book the time off properly – but they are allowed to take it, and as an employer, you’re unable to stop them.

Unauthorised absences, on the other hand, are not an employee right. For example, if your member of staff chooses to take a day off work to watch a football match, this is not their legal right – no matter how important the match is! If they book the time off, and it is approved, then legally they’re allowed to be absent. If they pretend to be ill in order to go to the match – the reverse is true.

Employment Law – Steps to Take

  1. Establish a system. It’s important to establish a policy on absence – right from the start. Make sure that workers understand what constitutes an authorised and unauthorised absence, and ensure they know that their absence will be noted and investigated where necessary. This may put them off trying to ‘pull a sickie’!
  1. Measure absence. Monitor how much unauthorised time has been taken off and keep records. You may need this at a later date if you need to take disciplinary measures.
  1. Gather evidence. It’s quite shocking how many employees take an unauthorised day off work, then post images of themselves on social media – doing something they’re not meant to be doing! Any evidence that you can gather will support your case if the situation escalates.
  1. Address the problem. It’s sensible to address the problem immediately, rather than allowing a small issue to turn into a potentially big problem. Call your employee to find out where they are. If they don’t answer the phone, leave a message, asking that they call you back – and also send an email. If they take a further day of unauthorised absence, contact them again to follow it up.
  1. Formalise the situation. If the absence continues, you’ll need to send a formal letter, inviting them to a disciplinary hearing. At this stage, it’s wise to work with a lawyer that specialises in employment law – to ensure you follow the correct procedures.


Employment Law – When to Dismiss?

In most cases, it would be inappropriate to dismiss a worker after one day of unauthorised absence. Your current discipline procedure should outline whether unauthorised absence is considered misconduct or gross misconduct – but of course, it may vary from case to case.

Remember, your member of staff has a responsibility to notify you of their absence in an appropriate way. In some instances, providing a sick note after the absence may be acceptable (for example, if they were rushed to hospital and were unable to let you know where they were).

If you’re not sure what your rights as an employer are, it’s advisable to ask an employment law specialist.

Employment Law – South West

If you need help with unauthorised absences in your workplace, or want to find out more about any aspect of employment law, talk to Harris Law today. We’re specialists in employment law and HR, and are here to protect and support your business. To find out more, call us on 01803 861086 or 07532 231061. Alternatively you can contact us HERE.