How to assess and control unauthorised absence

Unauthorised absence is where an employee has taken absence from the business without informing and obtaining authorisation from the business in advance. In order to assess whether the absence is unauthorised, we recommend asking the following initial questions:

  • Has the employee contacted the business to explain their absence?
  • Does the employee know the procedure for reporting absence?
  • Is the employee aware that their absence is unauthorised?
  • Has anyone from the business contacted, or attempted to contact, the employee to explain that the absence is unauthorised?
  • Has the employee ever taken unauthorised absence previously during their employment?
  • Are there any live disciplinary warnings on record relating to absence?
  • Is the absence related to medical issues or any other reasonable explanation?

Once you have established that the absence is unauthorised, the next steps to take are:

1/ Write to the employee explaining that the absence was unauthorised, and giving the reasons why. Also state in the letter that they will not be paid for the period of their unauthorised absence.

2/ Inform your payroll department to ensure they do not pay the employee for the period of unauthorised absence.

3/ If you intend to treat this as a disciplinary matter, write a separate letter to the employee inviting them to a disciplinary meeting.

4/ During the disciplinary meeting, explain that the absence was unauthorised, and state the reasons why.

5/ Write to the employee confirming the outcome of the disciplinary meeting. If disciplinary action has been taken, inform the employee of their right to appeal.

It’s important to monitor absence across the whole company, and not just one or two individual employees. Any policies you put in place should apply to every employee, so no one is shown any perceived bias. We suggest using a monitoring system such as the Bradford Factor, which is easy to use and treats absences fairly.

In order to control absence, there are various policies you may consider implementing within your business. Commonly used policies include:

  • Attendance Reward Policy – This can be either individual or group-based financial rewards. You could also provide non-monetary rewards such as certificates and recognition.
  • Flexible Working Policy – You could offer employees flexible working arrangements, including working from home options. This requires strong communication with employees, and support of managers to implement the policy.
  • Travel Policy – Implement and support help for travel, including car-sharing schemes, subsidising public transport, and providing bike shelters.
  • Prevention & Rehabilitation – Ensure early and ongoing contact with absent employees. If the absence is medically related, help refer to Occupational Health services at the earliest opportunity. Provide access to health treatment, including private medical insurance. Make necessary work adjustments (e.g. specialist chairs for employees with back pain). Support a phased return to work, and monitor progress with ongoing adjustments, if required.

It’s important to understand that sometimes employees may be scared or embarrassed to admit they have a problem, whether medical or otherwise. In this case, ensure the employee they have your full support and handle the situation with empathy. There are a range of circumstances in which an employer may want to obtain medical advice about an employee. Employers must comply with the Access to Medical Reports Act 1998, however this does not normally apply to occupational doctors.

Unauthorised absence can significantly increase employers’ costs. It also causes bad morale among other employees, and disrupts the business’s ability to perform. By implementing and controlling strong absence policies, your business will be protected against these detriments.