Top tips on managing unauthorised absence

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managing unauthorised absense

A hospital employee in Italy has been accused of being absent from work without authorisation for 15 years! Worse still, he appears to have been in receipt of full pay for the entire time.

Whilst this is an extreme example of unauthorised absenteeism, many employers face the problem of employees who just simply do not turn up for work on occasions.

In this article we look at what unauthorised absence is and set out some top tips for tackling the problem.

What is authorised and unauthorised absence?

Absences from work should be approved and agreed with the employer. Reasons for authorised absences usually fall into the below categories:

  1. Annual leave
  2. Sickness absence
  3. Furlough (until the end of September 2021)
  4. Maternity/paternity/adoption/parental/shared parental leave
  5. Garden leave (where someone is authorised to remain away from the workplace during their notice period)
  6. Time off for dependents
  7. Time off for medical appointments (including antenatal appointments)

Most of the items on this list require the employer’s authorisation or permission for the employee to be away from work, such as approving a request from an employee to take some annual leave.

Unauthorised absence on the other hand is where an employee is absent without good reason and usually without notifying their employer.

Can I deduct monies for unauthorised time off work?

You do not have to pay your employee for unauthorised absence because technically they have breached their contract by failing to present for work.

However, as always, each case needs to be assessed on its own merits so you must seek our advice to avoid the risk of claims for unauthorised deductions from wages and breach of contract claims.

What if an employee reports their absence but I don’t accept the reason they have given? My employee has called in sick but I have seen them out and about on the school run. Is this unauthorised absence?

This is a common problem.

What you need to bear in mind here is that your employee has reported that they are not well enough to work, this doesn’t mean that they are effectively under house arrest.

Therefore, if they are seen out and about, they may well be on their way to or from the doctors or the pharmacy.

In this case, whilst they may be feeling too unwell to work, they may not have been able to find someone else to assist with the school run and have no choice but to take their children to school themselves.

If the employer considered this to be unauthorised absence and didn’t pay them and/or took formal disciplinary action, this will be an unreasonable act on the employer’s part.

What if my employee reported as being too ill to attend work due to an upset stomach but has been seen in the pub?

This is a slightly different scenario than the one above but it’s still very common, especially as the weather hots up and we approach the May bank holidays.

It will depend on the following:

  1. If the employee is seen in the pub during the time they should have been working
  2. If they were seen in the pub but outside their normal working hours.

In scenario 1 you have a blatant example of an employee who has falsely reported to be sick when they clearly aren’t. You will of course need evidence. If they are daft enough to post their afternoon session on Facebook, then grab a screen shot, otherwise you are relying on the person who saw them to make a statement or the employee admitting to it.

In either case, you should seek advice from us and we will advise you on setting up an investigation meeting with the employee with a view to taking formal disciplinary action.

In scenario 2 things may not be so clear cut and again you are relying on evidence as in scenario 1. The issue here is that this is the employee’s own time, they may argue they had made a recovery by the evening. However, if they report as sick again the following day, this will be a different matter.

Again, you may be able to take formal action but as always it starts with taking advice from us and investigating what has happened.

What if an employee submits a backdated medical certificate to cover their unauthorised absence? Do I have to accept this?

Possibly not. It will of course depend on the circumstances and you will need to seek our advice but usually your absence reporting procedures (particularly those drafted by Avensure) will state that unauthorised absence will not be remedied by the submission of a backdated medical certificate.

What action can be taken for unauthorised absence apart from a loss of pay?

Unauthorised absence can result in disciplinary action as well as a loss of pay.

You are advised to take disciplinary action as well as suspending pay for the period of time the employee is absent because this will support your case if the employee were to try and later argue their suspension of pay was a contractual breach.

Can someone be dismissed for unauthorised absence from work?

Potentially, yes.

This will depend on the individual case and the employee’s length of service.

If the employee has less than 2 years’ service, then following disciplinary action the employer usually reserves the right to take action up to and including dismissal for a first disciplinary offence.

If they have over two years’ service, they are likely to receive a formal warning, unless they are in receipt of a formal final written warning already, in which case dismissal may be appropriate.

As always, you must seek our advice.

Could unauthorised absence be classed as gross misconduct in the care sector?

Potentially yes.

If an office worker doesn’t turn up to work, it will likely be classed as misconduct or serious misconduct depending on the circumstances but in the case sector, someone failing to turn up for work could have dangerous and potentially life-threatening consequences for vulnerable service users.

However, cases of gross misconduct are rare and need to be handled carefully. Advice must be sought- please see our previous article on gross misconduct here. Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935.

Next week…. A Beginners Guide to Disciplinary Proceedings.

author avatar
Elena Boura