How To Deal With An AWOL Employee

An AWOL employee (Absent Without Leave) is an employee who fails to attend work without prior authorisation; doesn’t attempt to contact you to explain their absence; and doesn’t respond to any of your attempts to contact them. They haven’t actually resigned, but you often get a gut feel that they aren’t coming back and often the rumour mill will be in over-drive regarding their intentions.

Absences due to pre-booked annual leave, genuine and correctly reported sickness absence and maternity or other family-related leave, or absences as a result of a statutory right to take time off (for example to carry out public duties or care for dependants) do not constitute unauthorised absence. If an employee fails to attend work without a good reason, or cites illness as the reason for absence after having failed to comply with your rules on reporting and certifying sickness absence, this will amount to unauthorised absence.

It is not safe simply to assume that the employee has resigned and to process their resignation. In employment law terms, there cannot be a resignation just because there is a withdrawal of labour and a failure to contact you. The employee must have actually communicated an intention to resign to you. It is only in exceptional cases that resignation will be the proper inference to draw from this type of conduct.

AWOL employees present a difficult challenge as the absence is often unexpected and if an explanation is given it’s usually evasive and/or unconvincing.

Steps To Follow

The first step when an employee fails to attend work and does not make contact with you should make reasonable efforts to contact them to establish why they are not at work before deciding on what action should be taken. You will probably have a gut feel about the absence, for instance if it’s one of your most loyal, valued and long serving employees, you are likely to be more worried about their welfare than if it’s someone who has previously demonstrated a poor attitude to work.

Things you should consider are:

  • Are you aware of any personal problems, difficulties at home, or health problems?
  • Have there been any disagreements or disputes involving the employee in the workplace recently?
  • Does the absence coincide with dates that were refused for holiday or other leave?

Early intervention is important but I wouldn’t recommend you start chasing within 15 minutes of their expected start time as you will be wasting an awful lot of time chasing employees who are simply running late. I always recommend placing the first call to them if they haven’t arrived or made contact with you within one or two hours of the time they should have started work. Clearly, you will need to be sensitive to the possibility that there could be a genuine reason for the absence (for example an accident or family emergency).

Maintain a record of all the attempts you have made to contact the employee as this will help you to demonstrate that you’ve taken all reasonable steps to contact the person. Keep a record of the times of your phone calls, details of the numbers you have called and the voicemail messages you have left, as well as copies of your emails, texts and social media messages you have sent to them.

If after a few days have passed you have still not managed to make contact you could also try contacting their next of kin and/or calling at their house (if they are not at home leave a note to let them know you have called). You should also send a letter asking them to contact you within a specific time period of receiving the letter. The letter should be sent to the last known address of the employee and by first class post. There is no legal requirement to send it by recorded mail. (See the link below to a template letter you can download)

Letter To Send To An AWOL Employee

My model letter is designed for you to use when an employee has gone AWOL from work and you’ve not heard from them following repeated attempts to contact them by phone or email. The letter expresses your concern for their wellbeing, explains that their continued unauthorised absence is a serious matter and explain the detrimental impact it’s having on the business. Itt asks them to contact you to discuss their absence and inform you of their intentions regarding their return to work and states a date and time as a deadline for them to contact you by and lists the ways they can contact you.

To download the Letter To An AWOL Employee complete your details below and an email containing the document will find it’s way to your inbox:

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How To Deal With An AWOL Employee

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