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Unauthorised Absence – Our Handy Guide

It’s holiday season – but what do you do if someone takes holiday without it being approved?  Read our handy guide So, you’re busy, you understand that your team has an...

It’s holiday season – but what do you do if someone takes holiday without it being approved?  Read our handy guide

So, you’re busy, you understand that your team has an entitlement to holiday and try to agree to their requests for time off where you can, even if it’s not always that convenient – but then someone goes off on holiday without your permission – or even your knowledge!  What should you do about that person and what should you do to help you avoid it happening again?

If you suspect that someone is about to take unauthorised leave – what can you do?

If you’ve heard on the grapevine that someone is about to take leave without permission then raise these concerns with the person as soon as you can.  Ask about holiday plans and remind them of the rules of requesting leave and that unauthorised leave may result in disciplinary action.  Don’t jump to conclusions but make things clear – and consider how to record the conversation (a letter or email?)

They go anyway – what do you do?

First, don’t jump to conclusions – there could be a reasonable explanation that isn’t what you think.  Do everything that you can to contact the employee – landline, mobile, email – and once you get contact, listen to the explanation.  Without a good reason (e.g. unexpected illness), then it’s OK to demand that the person comes back to work immediately.  Then treat it as a disciplinary offence (and contact us for advice).  If you can’t make contact, then send a letter requesting a reason for the absence and stating that they should return to work.  This should also state that proven unauthorised absence could be seen as a disciplinary offence and will be dealt with on their return.

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Where the person says they are sick

If this coincides with a period of refused annual leave, or you are suspicious then remind them of the need for a fitnote after 7 days.  You will need to investigate fully before taking disciplinary action – don’t make assumptions, consider what evidence you’ve got, what are the facts and what are just feelings or beliefs.

What happens when they come back to work?

Hold a meeting to discuss the matter – don’t automatically jump into disciplinary proceedings until you’ve heard the explanation.  If there is a fit note, and all rules regarding reporting sickness have been followed, then further investigation might not reveal any other evidence and we would caution against a disciplinary process unless there are other reasons for you to doubt the person’s version of unfortunate coincidences.

Your investigation could include a request for a medical opinion – what does your contract say about this?

Can you dismiss someone for this?

At a properly arranged disciplinary hearing (with all notice, representation and investigation requirements met), you might believe that the evidence identifies some wrongdoing, so you have a range of sanctions available, ranging from a reminder of the rules to considering dismissal.  Our recommendation is that you take advice on this; treating a single day of absence that doesn’t really inconvenience you differently to a fortnight off which has resulted in major problems for the company would seem justified.  After all, it’s unlikely that you really want to have a rigid approach to every absence, regardless of the circumstances.

Should you pay for unauthorised absence?

No, not if the person does not attend for work and the absence is unauthorised.  Making this clear in your policy will also clarify the position.

How do you avoid this happening?

Makes sure everyone understands the rules. A clear policy on leave will let people know the rules that will be followed and the possible consequences.  Taking a break without permission may lead to disciplinary action which could lead to dismissal – include unauthorised leave as an example of gross misconduct.  Apply the rules consistently and fairly and you will also reduce the risk of a discrimination claim.

What should the policy include?

Your policy should include clear instructions on how multiple requests for holiday at the same time will be dealt with – act fairly and you are less likely to have aggrieved employees.   You should also make clear that no one should book flights or make arrangements for holiday accommodation or travel without prior permission.  Be clear about how much notice someone needs to give for a request to take leave; the Working Time Regs state that twice as much notice as the intended leave should be given.  If you’re refusing the leave, then only the same amount of notice needs to be given.

Hopefully you’ll never face this situation, but if you do, these steps will guide you.  It’s holiday season right now, so with no issues with your teams, you can have a great holiday yourself – just make sure it’s authorised!  Any issues on your return, or if you want to chat through a case with one of our consultants, please contact us.