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How to Manage Unauthorised Absence in the Workplace

10 May 2019 6 min read

picture of an empty office chair to signify unauthorised absence

What is Unauthorised Absence?

Unauthorized absence is employees take time off work without letting you know, and not necessarily because they’re suffering from ill health or injuries. Instead, they simply didn’t want to come to work that day. It’s also commonly known as skiving or pulling a sickie.

It can be harmful to businesses because it’s unexpected and sporadic, it creates all of the same problems that other forms of absence cause – there won’t be as many people in as there should be, so unless someone picks up the work so productivity will suffer.

Repeated instances of unauthorized absence do suggest that your business has much deeper problems than a dip in productivity. If an employee simply decides that they don’t want to work one day, what does that say about their motivation and job satisfaction? What does it say about your company culture? Is there something about their job, their team, or their working environment that’s pushing them away?

Of course, some employees are simply unscrupulous. They might pull a sickie for any number of reasons, whether it’s a general lack of respect, or simply because they feel their priorities lie elsewhere. This is why many businesses treat it as theft. They make it grounds for dismissal, in an attempt to dissuade people from even considering it.

But still, it cannot be denied that unauthorized absence might be a sign that your business is suffering from an insidious malaise. Too many instances might indicate that the problem doesn’t lie with your employees, but with you. It might be time to act, to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to help your team find pride in their work.

How to Manage Unauthorised Absence

1. A Clear Absence Management Policy

This will help your business to cope with cases of unauthorized absence. With the right measures in place, you can ensure that your business will always be able to operate even when you’re not at full capacity, and you can deter employees from ever considering taking time off without good reason. Learn how to create an absence management policy here.

2. Make it Clear in Employee Contracts and Handbooks

Include a clear definition and make sure you outline the sort of permissible absences (for sickness, injuries, ill health, mental ill-health, family emergencies, etc.). Explain that you take instances of unauthorized absence very seriously, and clearly outline the penalties that await any employees who take time off for no good reason. This way, everyone will know exactly where they stand.

3. Use Absence Reporting to Spot Occurrences

With our absence reporting system, you can monitor your absence statistics to look for patterns. For example, you might find that an employee regularly calls in sick on Mondays and Fridays. Is this a coincidence, or are they just planning, or recovering from, big weekends? In any case, once you’ve spotted the pattern you can intervene, and talk to the employee to make sure that all is well. Our absence management software also allows you to set absence triggers. HR and management can get notified whenever an unauthorized absence is recorded, so you can act before things get problematic.

4. Return to Work Interviews

These are a great idea for all types of absence, as they allow you to make sure that you’re doing all you can to champion an employee’s wellbeing and recovery, and to help them settle back into work after a period of ill health or injury. But return to work interviews might also help you to tell the difference between a real sickness and a “sickie”. And if all employees know that you conduct them as standard, they may be discouraged from taking that sickie in the first place.

5. Employee Wellbeing

Another way is to help your employees find genuine fulfillment in their work. An employee wellbeing program actively champions your team’s health and happiness. It’s good for motivation, it’s good for workplace relationships, and it’s very good for productivity. Happy employees may be less likely to pull sickies.

Should You Discipline Employees?

Disciplinary action should be a last resort. No company should view a single instance of unauthorized absence as gross misconduct. If you can focus on creating an engaging and supportive working environment that champions everyone’s health and wellbeing, you’ll worry about it less.

In the first instance, you should try to contact the employee. If you can’t get a hold of them by phone or email, turn to any emergency contacts you have on file. After all, this might be an emergency.

You should then write the employee a letter. Explain that there’s been an incident of absence and that you’ll require an explanation within a certain period. Make it clear that if the employee doesn’t get in touch within this period, you will consider disciplinary action.

Once the employee returns to work, conduct your standard return to work interview. Allow them to explain themselves as they might have a perfectly good reason.

It might have been a family emergency, which occupied all their time and attention. It could be that they felt overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, or another mental ill-health issue. Or even have been a problem with another team member, an issue of harassment or bullying. In many cases, it may be down to you to help, rather than discipline.

It’s important, though, that you remain fair and consistent when managing unauthorized absences. Most businesses issue formal disciplinary warnings to employees caught skiving. This is often enough to let the employee know that you’re serious. But if the disciplinary warning goes unheeded, or if an employee’s not shown up for work in days and has not offered any explanation, it may be time for a disciplinary hearing.

Your business will have its policies and procedures for disciplinary hearings. So long as you give sufficient notice to the employee, you can conduct the hearing without them. You can dismiss employees if you feel that their continued unauthorized absence can be classed as gross misconduct. But let the employee know that they can appeal your decision, and give them details on how to raise their appeal.


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Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
May 10, 2019

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.