”Sorry Boss won’t be in today”…again
(How to handle unauthorised absences)

Unauthorised absences are quite simply a pain! They put pressure on the team, interrupt the flow to your business and they test the morale of colleagues not to mention yours!

So many of my clients are frustrated at getting texts from their workers (not even a phone call) that says “Can’t come in today”…”won’t be in today”….or worse nothing at all. Often there are no reasons provided for this unexplained absence which can prove highly disappointing.

What is unauthorised absence?

Let’s look at what unauthorised absence means. Simply it is failing to turn up for work without a good reason.

Unauthorised absence from work doesn’t include, however:

  • Where an employee is off work for approved annual leave
  • Genuine sickness (and they have followed your leave notification process)
  • Absence due to maternity/paternity leave (this includes antenatal care and associated appointments)
  • There are also some statutory rights that allow employees to be absent from work – for example, if you’ve had to make them redundant, they might be able to take leave to search for new work.

It is strongly recommended you have a leave policy that clearly establishes what unauthorised absence means, how your business manages it and what the possible consequences are for unauthorised absence as most employees I speak to have no idea.

For example, a client of mine had an employee who started to text his foreman in the evening that he would be there for work the next day. Then, in the morning would text he could not make it (often with no reason for his absence). This went on for weeks. Unfortunately, the foreman was replying ‘ok’ to those texts, so the employee thought he got the all-clear to be away – that this ‘ok’ response implied acceptance, therefore making the leave authorised. My client and I had to meet with the employee, re-establish the process and start again clarifying expectations.

Obligations for Managing Absences

Good faith is a provision under Section 4 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 that states there is a duty for both parties (Employers & Employees) to deal with each other in good faith and not do anything which will, or is likely to, mislead or deceive.

Employees have obligations as well and it is not unfair to expect employees to notify their manager as soon as practicable for any absence that may occur. That is why I recommend getting on to any tardiness around these unexplained/unauthorised absences as soon as possible.

Where I do recommend caution though is in how you ask for the information. I appreciate it can be quite tempting to react when ‘Joe’ has text you at 7am (the time he should be at work) to say “sorry not coming in” and to fire off a text saying (as one of my clients did)…..”I don’t care.. get your lazy ass out of bed now!” or worse to add to that “if you don’t get in here now don’t bother coming in at all”.

How to handle unauthorised absences from work

How you choose to handle this process may depend on the length of time taken off and how/if the employee has tried to justify it. For example, you might allow more latitude for Joe say then for Steve or Will below.

  • Joe has rung in on Thursday to say he is not coming in or Joe just doesn’t call and fails to notify of his absence for the day (random unauthorised absence)
  • Steve has a repetitive pattern of unauthorised absence (i.e. regular Fridays)
  • Will texts in on Tuesday one week, Monday two weeks later – different day (random but regularly occurring absence)

The good news is that the process to manage this is the same for all three scenarios.

  1. Make reasonable efforts (call, text, email) to contact the employee to ascertain the reason for the absence. If the employee is usually reliable then this may indicate that there is some sort of problem and that it may not be a deliberate unauthorised absence
  2. If you have no joy in making contact through phone calls, email or texts then you may also try an emergency contact if you have those details on file
  3. If still no contact, then you may write a letter that details the unauthorised absence and request an explanation. Put a time frame on this for your staff member to get back to you, noting that if this does not occur you may have to look at instigating disciplinary action. I often recommend sending this letter by courier to ensure a signature – proof of delivery.
  4. When they return to work – have a meeting to discuss and hear from them as to their reasons for their non-attendance, There might be a very valid reason for the absence – they could be going through a stressful time in their personal life, maybe they are feeling threatened at work, or completely overwhelmed. You may find in those cases to accept the absence.
  5. Reiterate the company’s process in applying for leave and in how they should notify and follow the correct leave procedure.

Final note

Whatever action you decide to take please ensure that it is fair and consistent across the board in managing absences (both authorised and unauthorised). At Tradie HR we are very experienced at handling these (and other tricky HR issues) so please don’t hesitate to call in confidence.

This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice