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There can be a range of situations where an employee does not show up to work on a given day, without a reason or excuse. For example, the employee may have suffered an accident or had a family emergency. Alternatively, there may be other situations where they cannot get in contact with you. However, there are also situations where employees simply do not show up to work and cannot be contacted. As a business, it is vital to approach all of these situations in good faith. This article sets out three tips for managing an absent employee, including:

  • not jumping to conclusions that the employee is negligent or lazy;
  • repeatedly trying to contact the employee; and 
  • covering these situations in advance with an abandonment clause.

Do Not Assume They Are Lazing Off

A foundation of employment law in New Zealand is a mutual duty of good faith between employers and employees. As an employer, that means you cannot assume the worst of your employees without good reason to do so. For example, suppose an employee is absent, even for two or three days or more, without an excuse. In these cases, it is common to assume that they are lazy, negligent, or otherwise not planning to come back to work. However, as an employer, you must be careful not to jump to conclusions. This is particularly the case before you have ascertained what is going on with the employee.

There are multiple reasons to avoid overly quick conclusions with an absent employee. Firstly, there are many situations where an employee has an emergency. The employee could either be incapacitated in an accident or may be assisting a family member in an emergency. In these situations, it is entirely reasonable that they may not think to contact the office. As an employer, you should bear in mind that the employee is possibly not at fault as well. While they are absent without a prior reason, their justification for doing so may be beyond reproach. 

Another key reason not to assume that the employee is lazing off is that you need to operate a fair and consistent process. This is particularly relevant if you eventually consider dismissing the employee for abandoning their employment after some time. You need to genuinely inquire about where the employee is and why they are not coming to work. Importantly, do not immediately threaten the employee or criticise them. Doing so would not be in line with your good faith obligation.

Repeatedly Try to Contact the Employee

Another key tip for managing an absent employee is to contact them using all the different means available to you. You should:

  • email them, using their work email or personal email address; 
  • contact them on their phone number; 
  • ask if anyone in their team or close to them knows where they are; and 
  • use any other communication means that is reasonable in the circumstances.

Further, it is essential to try to work out where the employee is. You want to genuinely try to contact them to come to work, and not rush to dismiss them for abandonment before making this attempt in the first instance.

Note that this cannot be a paltry effort or a one-time email before dismissing them. You must make repeated attempts to contact the employee. If the employee later challenges the process for dismissing them for abandonment, you should have records of your business’ attempts to make contact.

Include an Abandonment Clause in Employment Agreements

Abandonment can be a challenging situation to navigate for an employee. A good idea is to include an abandonment clause in your business’ employment agreement template. This clause should detail that your business can terminate the employee’s employment after a specific number of absent days without reason or justification. Adding this clause is significantly helpful if you have to encounter an abandonment situation later on. Ultimately, your business can rely on this clause in the employee’s agreement.

Key Takeaways

Managing an absent employee is undoubtedly challenging. However, remember there are several situations where the employee may well have a good reason for not coming to work and not making contact. This is particularly the case for medical emergencies. Given your good faith obligation, you should take care not to jump to any conclusions about an absent employee. Instead, you should make repeated attempts to get in touch with the employee. As an extra protection, you can include an abandonment clause in your employment agreements to cover this situation if it does arise. 

For more information about managing an absent employee, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does an employer have a good faith obligation towards an absent employee?

Yes, an employer always owes a good faith obligation towards employees. This obligation extends to when they are absent and without a prior reason or justification.

Can an employer dismiss an employee for abandonment?

Yes, you can dismiss an employee for abandonment. However, your business must have made a genuine effort to reach the employee and inquire as to whether they are coming back to work or not. The requirements can differ based on the circumstances. Therefore, it is good to get expert advice from an employment lawyer if your business considers this.

What is an abandonment clause?

A clause in an employment agreement detailing that a business can dismiss an employee if they are absent from work without reason for a certain number of days.

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