Where’s Wally? Dealing with Absenteeism in the Workplace

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Absenteeism can take on various forms within the working environment, it may be authorized or unauthorized, but generally involves the employee not being at work during their specified working hours.

The above stems from the reciprocal relationship between employer and employee where an employee is hired to render a service and in turn the employer has the obligation to remunerate the employee for services rendered.

The employee further has a common law duty to enter and remain in service. Should an employee fail to do so it would be advisable for the employer to investigate the cause of the absenteeism to determine the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the absenteeism.

As mentioned above, absenteeism can take many forms. Authorized absenteeism may be in instances where an employee has applied for leave and same was approved, participation in a protected strike, in the event of sick leave where a valid medical certificate was produced, an employee staying away from work during maternity leave or where approval for family responsibility leave was given.

Forms of unauthorized absenteeism may include:

· Poor Timekeeping: “ A failure to adhere to stipulated starting and end times including but not limited to starting times and break periods, reporting late for work, leaving work early, taking excessive breaks or breaks that are longer than permitted, not proceeding to the workplace or work station.”

· Unauthorised Absence/Leave: “Being absent from work without permission, and without a reasonable excuse, or a medical certificate”

· Desertion of Post: “Absence from the workstation without permission and or a valid reason with intention of not returning until the next allocated shift or workday.” This form of absenteeism refers to a longer period than merely absence from work station.

· Absconding: “Unauthorised absence from work without the intention to return.” This normally refers to absence for a period in excess of five (5) days and the employee, despite being requested to do so, failed to inform the company of the reason for his/her absence and has shown no intention to return to work. (The duration or period of absence may vary from company to company and your internal disciplinary code should provide guidance on the aforementioned).

In the case of unauthorized absenteeism the employer has to right to reprimand an employee. This may take the form of progressive discipline, which is a series of gradual disciplinary measures aimed at correcting the behavior of the employee such as verbal reprimands, written warnings and final written warnings. The seriousness of the reprimand will be determined by the form- and recurring nature of the absenteeism of the employee. Employees may also face dismissal in the event of repeated transgressions or transgressions very serious in nature such as prolonged absence.

In the event of poor timekeeping the employer may start by verbally reprimanding/counselling the employee. Should the employee fail to correct his/her behavior, the employer may institute more formal disciplinary action such as a written warning, etc.

Where the employee has been absent without authorization/leave, the employer may reprimand the employee based on the guidelines as set out by their disciplinary code. For example, if the employee has been absent for only one (1) day, the employer may issue a written warning. In the event of an employee being absent for three (3) consecutive days, the employer may issue a final written warning on a first offence dependent on the provisions of their disciplinary code as well as any prior warnings the employee may have on record for the same offence.

In the event of an employer suspecting that an employee has absconded, the employer must first attempt to contact the employee. We recommend that an abscontion letter be sent to the employee’s last known address via registered mail and that proof of this be kept by the employer. The letter will inform the employee that they have been absent for a particular period of time, without informing the employer and without approved leave, a valid reason or a medical certificate. The letter will further instruct the employee to contact the employer as soon as possible to inform the employer of his/her whereabouts as well as the reasons for his/her absence and to return to work no later than a specified date. It should further state that should the employee not return to work by the specified date it will be taken that the employee has repudiated his/her contract of employment and has no intention to return to work. In this case the employee may be terminated from the payroll due to abscontion. The reason for termination (i.e. abscontion) should also reflect on the UI19 documentation as the reason for termination.

It is of paramount importance that an investigation be lodged prior to any decision to discipline an employee. It is recommended that the employer start the investigation by interviewing the employee suspected of the misconduct. Once the interview is done and the employee was given the opportunity to explain his/her absence from work, the employer may further investigate the misconduct by gathering documentary evidence such as time sheets, investigating medical certificates or interviewing other witnesses. Due consideration should be given to any legislation relevant to the employee’s reason for absence, such as the sick leave provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997, as amended.

Should the employer still be of the opinion that the employee is guilty to unauthorized absence after carefully considering the information and evidence obtained throughout the investigation, the employer may institute disciplinary action in accordance with their disciplinary code and previous precedents set whilst adhering to Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (as amended), The Code of Good Practice: Dismissals.

Any trends in relation to the above mentioned forms of unauthorized absence should not be taken lightly and an investigation should be done into the causes of the absenteeism to determine appropriate ways to deal with and address these causes to prevent future reoccurrences.

For more information on the above topic, please contact the LabourNet Helpdesk at

0861 LABNET (0861 522638).

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Email us: support@www.labournet.com


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