My Employee Has Walked Off Without Giving Notice!!*!”&

It amazes me how often one hears about staff members who just don’t arrive at work on a Monday. When management finally tracks them down, they’re informed (with no embarrassment or remorse!) that the individual has a new job and won’t be coming back. This is especially prevalent in January- employees receive their Christmas bonuses and are never heard of again.

Do these people not understand the importance of good references!

This used to be common with blue collar positions, but it’s now happening at higher level positions as well. A client of mine had this exact scenario happen last month with their bookkeeper / payroll administrator. You can imagine the havoc that this created.

So how should you address this proactively?

  • The first thing to do it to ensure that your employment contract contains a proper notice period, usually one calendar month. It can be up to three months for higher level positions that are harder to fill.
  • Secondly, you should include a phrase like the following: ‘Should the employee fail to give proper notice of termination in terms of this provision, it is specifically agreed by both parties that the employer may deduct from the employee’s remuneration or other monies (such as accrued leave) due to the employee, an amount equal to the remuneration that the employee would have earned during the remaining period of the required notice.’

This means that if your employee walks out after working the first week of the month, you are entitled to deduct the next three weeks of income from any monies owed to her / him, i.e. remuneration and/or leave pay.

Hopefully this should act as a deterrent in terms of employees not giving adequate notice. If not, at least the money can pay towards hiring a temp, a recruitment agent and training costs.

How to deal with Desertion correctly from a Labour Legislation perspective:

The difference between absenteeism and desertion is that in the former case the employee is absent but intends to return to work. Desertion on the other hand, occurs when the employee is absent without leave or without informing the employer of the reason for his/her absence and doesn’t intend to return to work.

However, it is often difficult to differentiate between the two and therefore the following procedures should be followed.

Management must make every effort to establish the employee’s whereabouts and reasons for absence. The following steps should be taken:

  • Attempt to contact the employee telephonically – keeps notes of all attempts and the information gathered.
  • Send registered letters and telegrams to the employees last known address asking him/her to return to work or contact management within a specified period of time (at least five days). The wording for these letters and telegrams could be “You have been absent without authorisation since ……….. Should you fail to contact your Manager or returned to work within ……….. days, you will be deemed to have absconded”.
  • Make queries about the employee’s whereabouts or reasons for his/her absence from the employee’s work colleagues and friends and family where possible (keep notes of relevant responses).

If the absent employee returns to work:

A disciplinary hearing should be held and the normal disciplinary procedures followed. The employee should be given reasonable notice of the enquiry and the date should be agreed with him/her if possible.

The Chairperson of the Disciplinary Hearing should consider whether the employee has good reason for his/her absence and for failing to contact the company e.g. being in a coma as a result of an accident would be a valid reason.

If the absent employee does not return to work, one of two courses of action should be taken:

The Company can hold a disciplinary hearing in the employee’s absence, preferably with the employee’s representative in attendance, where all the available facts will be considered. This disciplinary enquiry should only take place after all efforts to contact the employee have failed and after the notice period applicable to that particular employee has expired. Based on the outcome of the disciplinary hearing, the absent employee may be dismissed and removed from the payroll with effect of his/her last day of work.

Every effort should be made to communicate the outcome of the hearing to the employee.

If the employee is dismissed and subsequently returns to work seeking his/her job back, the disciplinary hearing should be re-convened and the facts pertaining to the employee’s absence and the steps he/she took to contact Management will be considered. Depending on the outcome of this hearing the employee may be re-instated, or given the option to be re-instated as soon as a suitable position arises; or the dismissal upheld.

Alternatively, Management could wait until the absent employee returns to work and then, after giving the employee reasonable notice, hold a disciplinary hearing at which he/she is present. Should the employee have no reasonable reason for his/her absence and failure to contact Management, the employee can be dismissed. The employee would only be paid up until his/her last day actually worked before his/her prolonged absence.