All types of absenteeism have the potential to disrupt your business. We’ve already looked at the effects of long-term sickness absence. In this post we’ll look at unauthorised absence, which just might be the most harmful form of absence overall.

What is Unauthorised Absence?

Unplanned, or unauthorised absence is sporadic and often short-term in nature. It could be caused by a minor illness and injury, a family emergency, or even car troubles. It’s disruptive, but pretty easy for any business to manage.

Long-term sickness absence presents more of a problem. It can be caused by more serious illnesses and accidents, though the most common cause is mental ill health. Long-term absence can be a challenge for any business. But with the right strategy, it’s perfectly possible to manage.

Unauthorised absence is different. This is where employees take time off work without letting you know, and not necessarily because they’re suffering from ill health or injuries. Instead, they simply didn’t want to come to work that day. Unauthorised absence might also be known as skiving, or pulling a sickie.

Why is Unauthorised Absence so Harmful to Businesses

First, because it’s unexpected and sporadic, it creates all of the same problems that other forms of absence cause – there won’t be as many people in as there should be, so unless someone picks up the slack, productivity’s going to suffer.

But beyond this, instances of unauthorised absence suggest that your business has much deeper problems than a dip in productivity. If an employee simply decides that they don’t want to work one day, what does that say about their motivation and job satisfaction? What does it say about your company culture? Is there something about their job, their team, or their working environment that’s pushing them away?

Of course, some employees are simply unscrupulous. They might pull a sickie for any number of reasons, whether it’s a general lack of respect, or simply because they feel their priorities lie elsewhere. This is why many businesses treat unauthorised absence as theft. They make it grounds for dismissal, in an attempt to dissuade people from ever considering it.

But still, it cannot be denied that unauthorised absence might be a sign that your business is suffering from an insidious malaise. Too many instances of unauthorised absence might indicate that the problem doesn’t lie with your employees, but with you. It might be time to act, to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to help your team find pride in their work.

How to Manage Unauthorised Absence

A good absence management policy will help your business to cope with cases of unauthorised absence. With the right measures in place, you can ensure that your business will always be able to operate even when you’re not at full capacity, and you can deter employees from ever considering taking time off without good reason.

Here are a few policies and procedures that will help you to manage unauthorised absence:

  1. Employee Contracts and Handbooks – Include a clear definition of unauthorised absence. Make sure you outline the sort of absences that are permissible (for sickness, injuries, ill health, mental ill health, family emergencies etc.) and the sort of absences that you view as unauthorised. Explain that you take instances of unauthorised absence very seriously, and clearly outline the penalties that await any employees who take time off for no good reason. This way, everyone will know exactly where they stand.
  2. Absence Reporting – With our absence reporting system, you can monitor your absence statistics to look for patterns. For example, you might find that an employee regularly calls in sick on Mondays and Fridays. Is this a coincidence, or are they just planning, or recovering from, big weekends? In any case, once you’ve spotted the pattern you can intervene, and talk to the employee to make sure that all is well. Our absence management software also allows you to set absence triggers. HR and management can get notified whenever an unauthorised absence is recorded, so you can act before things get problematic.
  3. Return to Work Interviews – These are a great idea for all types of absence, as they allow you to make sure that you’re doing all you can to champion an employee’s wellbeing and recovery, and to help them settle back into work after a period of ill health or injury. But return to work interviews might also help you to tell the difference between a real sickness and a “sickie”. And if all employees know that you conduct them as standard, they may be discouraged from taking that sickie in the first place.
  4. Employee Wellbeing – Another way you can discourage employees from ever taking unauthorised absence is through doing all you can to help them find genuine fulfilment in their work. An employee wellbeing program actively champions your team’s health and happiness. It’s good for motivation, it’s good for workplace relationships, and it’s very good for productivity. Happy employees may be less likely to pull sickies.

Read our guide to creating an intelligent sickness absence policy for your business.

What if There Was a Good Reason for the Unauthorised Absence?

So you’ve introduced plans and policies to discourage unauthorised absence, and to safeguard your business against any unexpected shortfalls in numbers. But what if you still find that unauthorised absence is a problem? What if, for instance, a usually-reliable employee doesn’t show up for work one day?

In this case, you should try to contact the employee. If you can’t get a hold of them by phone or email, turn to any emergency contacts you have on file. After all, this might be an emergency situation!

You should then write the employee a letter. Explain that there’s been an instance of unauthorised absence, and that you’ll require an explanation within a certain time period. Make it clear that if the employee doesn’t get in touch within this time period, you will consider disciplinary action.

Once the employee returns to work, conduct your standard return to work interview. Allow them to explain themselves. You never know, they might have a perfectly good reason for their unauthorised absence.

It might have been a family emergency, which occupied all their time and attention. It could be that they felt overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, or another mental ill health issue. Or even have been a problem with another team member, an issue of harassment or bullying. In many cases, it may be down to you to help, rather than discipline.

What Should the Penalty Be for Unauthorised Absence?

But you may ultimately find that the employee has no excuse, such is the case with many instances of unauthorised absence. Your policy in this case is up to you. It’ll depend on how long the employee took off (and how disruptive their absence proved) and how they tried to justify their absence (if at all).

It’s important, though, that you remain fair and consistent when managing unauthorised absence. Most businesses issue formal disciplinary warnings to employees caught skiving. This is often enough to let the employee know that you’re serious. But if the disciplinary warning goes unheeded, or if an employee’s not shown up for work in days and has not offered any explanation, it may be time for a disciplinary hearing.

Your business will have its own policies and procedures for disciplinary hearings. So long as you give sufficient notice to the employee, you can conduct the hearing without them. You can dismiss employees if you feel that their continued unauthorised absence can be classed as gross misconduct. But let the employee know that they can appeal your decision, and give them details on how to raise their appeal.

This is an absolute last resort, of course. No company should view a single instance of unauthorised absence as a gross misconduct. And if you can focus on creating an engaging and supportive working environment that champions everyone’s health and wellbeing, you may never have to worry about unauthorised absence at all!

Did you know e-days allows your business to track unauthorised absence?

Try e-days for free