It is important to understand the correct procedure to follow when an employee has failed to report for duty for an extended period. All too often, employers are under the impression that they do not have to follow any procedure under these circumstances.

“Since he has been absent for more than a week, he has dismissed himself… Right?”  Wrong!

Desertion implies that the employee has left work and has no intention of returning. An employer cannot assume that the employee has deserted if there was, for example, a fight or an altercation between the employer and the employee and now the employee is failing to report for duty. There is a procedure that needs to be followed.

Many employers do not take kindly to the advice that they have an obligation to contact the absent employee. This is met with some confusion, “Why should I beg someone to work?”, is a common response.

It is, however, expected from employers to contact the employee using their last known contact details. In the same way that a person would attempt to contact a friend who has gone missing, the normal response expected of an employer whose employees have failed to report for duty, is to enquire as to the reason for their non-attendance at work.

In cases where the reasons for non-attendance are disputed, the employer’s attempts to ascertain the employee’s whereabouts have significant persuasive value. In contrast, an employer who makes no enquiry about the employee’s whereabouts cannot argue that the employee had no intention of returning to the workplace.

Acceptable forms of contact can include the following. By sending an employee a:
– Alternative employee to the absent employee’s place of residence;
– a registered letter;
– an e-mail;
– a telegram; or,
– a text message.

The employer should keep a record of all the attempts made to contact the employee. Should the employee return to work, the employee can still be charged for absence without leave or permission and be called to attend a disciplinary hearing.

Should the employee, however, after all the above-mentioned attempts being made, remain absent and still have not informed, or has no valid reason, or made no contact, the employer can now contact their representatives and take further steps to formally discipline the employee.

Should the employee visit the CCMA or any other forum and open a dispute against the employer for an alleged unfair dismissal, the employer will have a defence and a mountain of evidence to prove that all resources were exhausted to contact the employee and that, ultimately, the dismissal was executed as a final resort.

The employer would, in so doing, have then fulfilled the obligation placed on him/her.

Article by: Carlene van der Lith
Dispute Resolution Official – Kimberley