What does unauthorised absence mean?

What does unauthorised absence mean?

Unauthorised absence typically means that an employee is not at work, when expected to be, and the employee has not obtained prior approval from their employer or has not provided a reason for the absence. An employer may regard an absence to be unauthorised if the employee fails to follow the required policies and procedures.

This blog will outline various steps that an employer can take to manage, and reduce, unauthorised absence at work.

Implement clear policies relating to absences


It is important to have clear and comprehensive policies in place which, for example, outline the procedures for reporting absences, and the potential consequences of unauthorised absence. To be effective, any procedures should be customised to reflect the needs of the organisation and steps should be taken to ensure that employees are aware of, and have access to, the relevant policies and procedures.

Ensure procedures are followed


It is one thing to have policies and procedures in place, and quite another to ensure that they are routinely followed. For example, an employer may conclude (incorrectly) that, if an employee has an unauthorised absence, it is permissible to terminate their employment without the need to follow the usual procedure.

This approach would be a mistake and may prove to be a very costly one.  Where there has been an unauthorised absence it remains important to go through the applicable process, rather than simply respond in a way which is a knee jerk reaction to the situation.

Subject to the necessary conditions being met, if procedures were not followed, and the person was dismissed, that situation may prompt the individual to bring an unfair dismissal claim. Whereas, following a process indicates that any decisions were reached in a way which was reasonable in the circumstances.   For more information on investigation meetings at work or how to be successful at a disciplinary hearing view our blogs.

Remain informed


In order to take effective action, it is important to gain information as soon as possible. A delay may result in details being lost, such as whether or not the absence occurred, when it was, and the length of time that the absence(s) lasted for.

 Maintaining effective communication


If the absence is unauthorised, that would indicate that the individual has not followed the reporting requirements of the organisation. In such circumstances, it is particularly important to find out what happened. Such information is more likely to be revealed if employees feel   comfortable discussing sensitive issues that may have resulted in unauthorised absences occurring, such as health problems or family emergencies.

In an extreme situation, where there has been a period of unauthorised absence (without communication) it may not be clear whether or not the individual has in fact resigned. In such a situation, it is important that an employer does not assume that the individual has resigned and instead take steps to establish what the position is and act accordingly.

Maintain records


Keep accurate records of employee attendance and absences. Such activities can reveal patterns in behaviour in relation to particular employees.  These details are also valuable at an organisational level.  There are numerous things that can be measured, and it is for the organisation to decide which information would be the most useful. For example, an organisation may choose to track whether the level of unauthorised absence has increased or decreased over a previous period of time, such as 6 or 12 months, and what the amount of that change is when comparing the periods of time.

Ensure consistency


It is important to ensure that policies are applied in a way which is transparent and fair. This consistency is particularly important in circumstances involving potential disciplinary action. This fairness should also apply to the severity of any potential sanction imposed.


Have return to work interviews


Conducting return to work interviews with employees who have been absent without authorisation, provides an opportunity for the employee to explain their absence and allows the employer to discuss the situation and to better understand any reasons provided by the employee.


Explore supportive interventions


Whilst it is important to know the reason(s) for the unauthorised absence(s), it would also be sensible for an employer to explore what steps could be taken to reduce the likelihood of unauthorised absences occurring in future.

Provide training to line managers


As referred to above, a failure to act properly in relation to the management of unauthorised absence may substantially affect an organisation’s productivity as well as having unexpected legal implications.

Gaining such training will reduce the likelihood of such errors from occurring, and will enable line managers to navigate these sensitive topics with confidence.

Continually review policies and procedures


Employers should periodically review policies and procedures at regular intervals to ensure they remain relevant and effective. During the review, use any data obtained, such as unauthorised absence levels, to inform decision making.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law and assists both employees and employers.

If you are an organisation, we have expertise in delivering HR consultancy and HR training in all aspects of  managing unauthorised absence (such as the topics referred to above), and implementing measures to bring about continuous improvement. In addition to our HR services, we support clients with Defending an Employment Tribunal Claim.

If you are an individual who would like advice on a matter concerning an investigation meeting, a disciplinary hearing or you would like to discuss bringing an Employment Tribunal Claim, we would be pleased to hear from you.

Please contact us on 020 3923 8616 or via email on info@plotkinandchandler.com to discuss your needs and the ways in which we can help.




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