Employers often confuse abscondment with absenteeism and need to be aware of the specific process to follow in each instance.

Let’s take a closer look at the definitions, practical steps an employee can take, and how one may have grounds for dismissal.

ONE – What is abscondment:

The employer does not know the whereabouts of an employee that has failed to report for duty without any communication.

In this instance, the employer will not be aware of the employee’s whereabouts and cannot presume that the employee will not return to conduct their duties at the company. The employer is now responsible in determining if the employee will report back to the company for his/her duty or not, before considering the dismissal of the employee. 

However, if an employee has informed the company of their absenteeism and intention to return for their duties, the matter cannot be considered absconded.

Abscondment is generally considered as the employee resigning without tendering their resignation. As such, the employer must first attempt to contact the employee and request that they return to work and/or contact management or HR to discuss their absence and the stated reasons.

When an employee does not respond to the company’s attempts to contact him, the company may then proceed with a disciplinary inquiry to ensure a fair process is followed. They must notify the employee of the company’s intention to conduct an inquiry. The notice to attend should set out the charges and employee’s rights, including the date, time and place of the inquiry.

After the company follows a fair procedure and the employee does not attend the inquiry, the employee will then be considered absconded from duty. Whereby he/she has terminated their services by failing to return to work and showing no intention to do so and thus, the employee may be fairly dismissed.

TWO – Practical step to be followed by an employer

There are several steps that the employer has to follow before deciding on what disciplinary action to follow. 

  1. Immediately stop any payments to the employee. If the employee did not obtain authorisation from the company, the employer does not have to pay the employee for the days not worked, and the no-work-no-pay principle will apply.
  2. Phone the employee on their registered telephone number, noting any communication or messages left and the times and dates of the phone calls.
  3. Ask the employee’s work colleagues and family members if they know their whereabouts, noting any comments. 

If there is no response from the employee or any information on the employee’s whereabouts, the employer should:

  • Send written communication to the employee, using a registered mailing address, last known address, email address, telephonic message (ensuring the employee received and read the communication), or all of the above. This communication must indicate why the letter is being sent and on what date the employee should return to the company’s premises, or a disciplinary inquiry will occur. 

If the employee does not report to the company’s premises by the given date, the employer should:

  • Send follow-up communication informing the employee of the notice to attend a disciplinary inquiry for absconding and/or absenteeism from the workplace, with the correct date and time. The employee should be made aware that if they do not attend the disciplinary inquiry, it will be held in their absence.

If the disciplinary inquiry continued with (or in the absence of) the employee, and the employee was dismissed, the company should:

  • Inform the employee of his/her dismissal and remind the employee of their right to refer the matter to the CCMA within 30 days of the dismissal. 

THREE – Warranting the dismissal:

The onus will be on the employer to prove that:

  1. Reasonable and necessary attempts were made to have the employee return back to work.
  2. A reasonable period (absence period) was allowed before the employee’s dismissal was considered. 
  3. The unreasonable number of days being absent, concerning the operational requirements and the impact on their fellow employees.
  4. The employee had no intention of returning to work.  

If the dismissed employee returns to the company, the employee is entitled to appeal the dismissal, citing any reasons for the period of absence. 

These basic guidelines provide a practical framework for employers and organisations to follow. Should you require further assistance, contact Invictus on 0861 737 263 for any queries/assistance regarding the absenteeism and absconsion or for us to conduct your inquiries.