Unauthorised Absence

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

What happens if an employee is absent without your permission—what’s your business’ legal standing? We explain what you need to know to keep you productive.

To run a successful business, having all your employees in attendance plays a major part. If you have an employee who fails to turn up to work without letting you know, their absence is unauthorised.

Whilst there may be a reason behind their absence, they could require your support. But if there isn't, you may have to start disciplinary proceedings against them. So it's important you manage the situation correctly.

In this guide, we'll discuss what an unauthorised absence is, how to manage them, and ways to prevent them from happening in your company.

What is an unauthorised absence?

An unauthorised absence is when an employee fails to turn up to work without providing a proper reason, such as a medical appointment. Also known as being absent without permission or absent without leave (AWOL).

The term also covers when an employee does inform you of their absence, but the reason contradicts the terms and conditions of their employment contract.

What are authorised absences?

An authorised absence is the opposite of unauthorised, whereby the employee has a valid reason for being absent from work. This type of leave is granted in advance. It's used in a variety of situations, such as:

For a planned absence, such as a holiday - your employee should give you notice as stated in their contract. This should be in line with your annual leave policy and with authorisation from the employer.

Is unauthorised absence gross misconduct?

Although unauthorised absence on its own is misconduct and therefore a disciplinary offence, it's rare that it's enough for a summary dismissal. Meaning that typically, unauthorised absence doesn't equate to gross misconduct.

There are times when unauthorised absences are accepted. For example the sudden death of a family member, or being involved in a serious accident.

How to deal with unauthorised absences

As an employer, it's important you deal with instances of unauthorised absences in your business correctly. This is to ensure it doesn't become a bigger, company-wide problem.

If an employee fails to attend work without good reason, you should follow your unauthorised absence procedure.

What is an unauthorised absence procedure?

An unauthorised absence procedure is the process you should follow when an employee doesn't attend work.

It's important to remember that you have a duty of care towards staff, so the procedure should find out the reason behind them going AWOL.

Below are the steps you should take in the first couple of days of their unauthorised absence.

First day of employees' unauthorised absence

On the first instance of the employee's absence, reasonable attempts to make contact with them should be made.

Although some managers feel it isn't their job to contact the employee, you have a duty of care towards your employees. Especially if they've suffered an accident on the way to the workplace.

You should try and call, email, or send a text message to the absent employee. Employers should keep a record of any attempts made to contact them, including the date, time and method of contact chosen.

If it isn't possible to make direct contact with the employee and you have an emergency contact for them on record, you should try and speak with them. The emergency contact can try and speak with the absent employee.

It's also good practice to write to the employee expressing your concern regarding their unauthorised absence.


It should be sent via post or email. Included in the letter should be the need for them to make contact, and if none is made then a disciplinary hearing will be required.

If the employee makes contact later in the day, find out the reason behind their unauthorised absence. Once you find out the reason, decide if further disciplinary action is required.

Second day of employees' unauthorised absence

If you have an employee absent from work without good reason for a second day, contact should be started again.

If there's been no contact made by the employee, you should invite them to a disciplinary hearing to discuss the allegation of unauthorised absence.

This should be done via an invitation letter, with the following information included:

  • Full details of the absence, including dates.
  • Information regarding attempts to contact the employee.

Sufficient notice should be given before starting a disciplinary hearing. The employee also has a statutory right to be accompanied to the hearing by either a trade union representative or a colleague.

The letter of invitation should be sent to the employee via recorded delivery, as well as a copy being sent via email. Sending the letter twice will mean the employee has more chance of receiving it.

What disciplinary sanction can be handed down for unauthorised absences?

If an employee continues to be absent from work without making you aware, you might wish to follow amore serious disciplinary sanction. These actions should be listed within your disciplinary policy, under a non-exhaustive list. Ensure you deal with each case of unauthorised absence on an individual basis.

Unauthorised absences should be dealt with by a series of warnings, that may ultimately end with dismissal with notice. However, this should be a last resort with all efforts made to resolve the issue.

But, any disciplinary action should be given in line with your company's disciplinary policy. Not doing so could end with a claim of unfair dismissal being raised against you in the future.

How to conduct disciplinary hearings

Any disciplinary hearings you hold should be carried out in line with your current disciplinary procedure. The hearing is the time to discuss the disciplinary offence and hand out any action (if applicable).

If the employee in question doesn't show up to the hearing, you should make contact with them via a letter. This should again be sent by recorded delivery or by email, and will give the employee one more opportunity to attend the hearing.

Make it clear in the second letter that if they fail to attend again, then the hearing will be held without them. The decision on disciplinary action should then be made in their absence.

It's important to remember that if you choose to hand a sanction down to an employee, they have the right to appeal.

How to prevent unauthorised absence in your business

As an employer, you should do everything you can to avoid unauthorised absences becoming a major issue. Below are a couple of things that you can introduce into your company .

Create an absence policy

One way to prevent unauthorised absence in your company is to create an absence policy. This should be included within your employee handbook and read by your employees before starting employment.

Included in the absence policy should be:

●     Who and how to report any absences to.

●     Asking the employee to provide details of when they will return to work.

●     Potential consequences of unauthorised absences.

●     Any return-to-work processes you have in place, such as a return-to-work interview.

Speak with the employee when they return to work

Another way of preventing unauthorised absence in your company is to speak with the employee when they return to work. This can be done via a return-to-work interview.

There may be an ongoing reason why an employee isn't turning up to work, such as struggling with their mental health. By having a conversation with them, you may be able to work towards a solution.

Remember, you have a duty of care towards your employees that you should adhere to.

Can you be taken to an employment tribunal over unauthorised absences?

Yes, if an employee feels they were dismissed without fair reason, they may choose to raise an unfair dismissal claim against you. However, to do so, they must have two or more years of continuous service. Unless they may a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim, where no minimum length of service is required.

It's important that you act fairly when disciplining an employee for an unauthorised absence. Not doing so could mean heavy compensation are handed down to you, as well as your business suffering reputational damages.

Get expert advice on unauthorised absences from Peninsula

For any business to thrive, the employees are vitally important. This is why you need all your employees in work, except for when they have approved leave. If an employee fails to turn up to work without letting you know, this is an unauthorised absence.

Sometimes, there may be a valid reason why they haven't shown up to work. But you still need to manage the situation correctly, if there isn't a legitimate reason behind their absence - you may need to start disciplinary proceedings.

Peninsula offers expert advice on unauthorised absence. Our teams offer 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.

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