Introduction
Employers should act when Employees abscond from work. There is a misconception that it is not the obligation of the Employer to ascertain the absconding Employee’s whereabouts. Some Employers have even claimed that “Employees dismiss themselves” when they have absconded from work. Due to this misconception many Employers fail to act against Employees that have stayed away from work.

The Employer’s failure to act could become problematic when the Employee that absconded, refers a dispute for unfair dismissal to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (hereinafter referred to as “CCMA”) or Bargaining Council. The Employer won’t be able to prove that the Employee was not dismissed due to his/her inaction.

What should Employers then do when Employees abscond from work? When does absenteeism become absconding? Must Employers only act against Employees that have absconded from work?

What is the difference between absenteeism and absconding?
Absenteeism is generally when an Employee stays away from work without leave and/or permission. It will usually not be for longer than 2 (two) days. The Employee plans to return to work. Upon the Employees’ return, the Employee must be disciplined in accordance with the Employer’s Disciplinary Code.

An Employee will be considered to have absconded from work when they stay away from work for more than 3 (three) consecutive days and they have no intention of returning to work. It should however be stated that what will be considered absenteeism and what will be considered abscondment will differ from Employer to Employer. The difference must therefore be defined in the Employer’s Disciplinary Code and/or Human Resources Management Policies as well as how it will be dealt with.

What is a Desertion Diary and when must it be used?
A Desertion Diary is a document that must be completed once it has been ascertained that an Employee has absconded from work. This will ensure that an Employer takes the necessary action to ascertain the Employees’ whereabouts. The Desertion Diary can be used as a checklist by ensuring that the Employer has telephonically contacted the Employee, spoken to fellow Colleagues and had attempted to visit the Employees’ last known residential address.

What is a Notice of Desertion and how must it be used?
A Notice of Desertion is a document that is issued to an Employee who has absconded from work. The Notice of Desertion will indicate when the Employee had last reported for duty and how many days he/she has since then absconded. It further instructs the Employee to return to work immediately. The Notice of Desertion must be sent to the Employee via registered post and/or private email. It is important that record is kept thereof. The Notice of Desertion will further indicate that upon the Employee’s return a date for a Disciplinary Hearing will be arranged to address the Employee’s misconduct.

Conclusion
The Desertion Diary and Notice of Desertion will thus ensure that Employers do act against Employees that abscond from work. Should the absconding Employee then refer a dispute for unfair dismissal to the CCMA and/or Bargaining Council, the Employer will have the necessary documentary evidenced to indicate that the Employee had in fact absconded from work. It is further recommended that the Desertion Diary, Notice of Desertion be used in conjunction with the Disciplinary Hearing Pack.

© Helena Roodt – Schoemanlaw Inc. – 2018