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How to Approach Unauthorised Absence? (Employers Guide)

October 11, 2023 | By: Clare Homewood

What is Unauthorised Absence?

Put simply, unauthorised absence is classified as when an employee fails to come to work without notifying the employer.

Approach to Unauthorised Absence?

There can be many different reasons for the unauthorised absence of an employee (otherwise known as being absent without leave - AWOL). Some may be deliberate; others may be as a result of an emergency or a crisis.

It is important to not make assumptions or jump to conclusions as to the reasons someone has not arrived for work (even if this is not a first time), and to follow a fair and consistent process. Employers should remember that they have a duty of care towards their employees.

It may be that it is difficult to get to the facts initially (or ever) despite your best efforts, but you should give the benefit of the doubt to start with.

This is critical as a knee jerk reaction of dismissal without investigation and following a procedure, could in certain circumstances lead to an unfair dismissal.

Initial Contact - First day of Unauthorised Absence Approach


You should have already requested contact details, and emergency contact details for an employee when they join and it’s important to ensure that you are updated with any changes over time. Ensure that it is stated in your handbook or relevant policy that an employee updates you of any changes, and an annual reminder to do this will not hurt.

You should have an absence notification process in place which all employees are made aware of from day 1 of employment.

Being absent without authorisation:

  • In the first instance, check that there is not a day’s leave or appointment that has been forgotten.
  • After allowing some time for possible lateness, attempt to contact the employee at least twice, by phone and/or email, and ensure attempts are documented.
  • If you have reason to be particularly concerned about the welfare of the employee after failed attempts, you may decide to call/message the person given as their emergency contact.

Day 2 of Unauthorised Absence Approach

  • If there has been no response, send a letter to the employee first class and signed for. This letter should ask the employee to make contact by a certain date, advise absence is unauthorised and therefore unpaid, and is a potential disciplinary offence. It is a good idea to include the sickness notification procedure/policy in this letter.
  • Allow reasonable time (1 week) for a response.

Continued Unauthorised Absence and How to Deal With?

  • If there has still been no response to the request to make contact, a second letter can be sent, recapping attempts to contact and inviting the employee to a disciplinary hearing for unauthorised absence and failing to follow the notification procedure. An indication of the potential outcome should be included.
  • Where the circumstances warrant this the letter may warn this is potentially Gross Misconduct and may lead to dismissal.
  • It may be appropriate at this stage to also forewarn that a failure to attend the hearing without a satisfactory explanation may lead to the company making a decision in their absence.
  • It may be appropriate at this stage to not include the above but to reschedule the hearing to allow one more opportunity to provide an explanation.

The circumstances of each case do need to be taken into careful account before wording this letter. For example, there may be a need to tread more cautiously e.g.; if the notification process has not been made clear or the individual has known health or personal issues.

No Show at Arranged Disciplinary Hearing

  • If the employee has since been in touch circumstances may mean a different route is followed.
  • If it gets to this stage and the employee has not made contact and failed to attend the hearing with no prior explanation, you may be able to dismiss in their absence where this possibility has already been mentioned. However, notes must be taken at the hearing in their absence summarising attempts to contact and why this decision was arrived at, and the notes sent with the outcome letter.
  • Where the possibility of dismissal in their absence has not been included in the letter, an opportunity to attend a rescheduled hearing should be given.  
  • Following dismissal, the opportunity to appeal should be given but the employment can be ended from the date of the decision that was made.

Alternative Scenarios

  • The employee gets in touch with a justifiable explanation – dismissal will usually not be appropriate. There may be a letter of concern issued around following the right process or support may need to be offered and the matter dropped on this occasion.
  • The employee gets in touch and /or attends a hearing but no justifiable explanation is given - dismissal may be appropriate but more than likely a second chance should be given. A letter of concern, a written or final written warning that remains on file for a certain period would be issued advising that further offences could lead to dismissal.
  • The situation evolves – e.g.: into a grievance or allegation of stress at work – this may lead to a completely different route needing to be followed.

Short Serving Employees and Unauthorised Absence

The process can possibly be shortened where an employee is in their probation period or has under 2 years’ service.

However, a dismissal without a full process can still carry risk even in these circumstances. It is therefore important to seek advice.


Dealing with unauthorised absence when the employee remains uncontactable can be a straightforward process but often where contact is made late or there are repeat offences it may be necessary to take a different set of actions or add in another opportunity to ensure a safer dismissal in the long run.

To navigate through the different scenarios for a dismissal on a safer footing we’d advise to seek advice from an expert.

About the Author
Clare Homewood
Clare Homewood
Clare Homewood, Author at Wirehouse Employer Services

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