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Unauthorised absences and dismissal

March 23, 2016

missing

We all know of a colleague or friend who likes to knock off early in the afternoon for a *cough* “private appointment” and who doesn’t give details of that appointment to their superiors. Does an employee failing to obtain permission for a part day absence and failing to inform anyone of their whereabouts warrant a summary (or immediate) dismissal?

Well, a law firm in Australia believed it was grounds for summary dismissal… and boy were they wrong!

In a case before the Fair Work Commission, a law firm summarily dismissed a lawyer for her failure to obtain the Partner’s permission for a part day absence from the office. The employee failed to advise them of her whereabouts, when in fact she was attending the District Court in relation to her own action over a domestic violence incident.

In this matter, the Fair Work Commission agreed that yes, she probably should have advised her superiors of her whereabouts or that she wasn’t going to be in to work until later than expected, but a summary dismissal was definitely considered harsh, unjust and definitely disproportionate to the gravity of her misconduct.

If a law firm can get a dismissal so wrong, small to medium enterprises surely need assistance?

When is an unauthorised absence serious enough to warrant cessation of employment?

Picture this, it is a Friday afternoon and your employee has clearly taken a long lunch break and they’re still not back at the office (probably not hard to imagine with Easter around the corner!). You have no idea where they have gone or if they are coming back.

What are your options?

  1. Reasonable efforts – You need to make reasonable efforts to contact the employee. That might be via email, telephone or even text message. Is there a reason they aren’t at work? Did something happen? Are they experiencing an emergency?
  2. Written notification – If the employee’s absence continues over a period of a few days, and you are still unsure where they are, you should be sending written notification to their home address enquiring into the reason for their absence. It is at this stage that you could inform them that their continued unapproved absence is likely to affect their ongoing employment.

As seen by the case with the Australian law firm, automatic dismissal for a part day absence is likely to be unfair.

For more information on unauthorised absences, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.