Unauthorised Absence – What Is It and How To Manage It

What is Unauthorised Absence

Unauthorised absence is when an employee does not attend work and has not given a reason for their absence or contacted their employer to inform them of their absence.

It can also be called:

    • Absent without leave (AWOL)


  • Absent without permission.


When is Absence Authorised

Absences can be authorised in a wide variety of situations including:

  • Annual leave;
  • Sick leave;
  • Compassionate leave;
  • Jury service;
  • Family-related leave;
  • Unpaid leave;
  • Career breaks;
  • Public duties.

For these types of leave authorisation from the company would be granted in advance of the leave being taken or would be granted on the day the leave was requested if this were an emergency situation or a sudden bereavement.

An absence that is unauthorised is simply an absence that has not been approved by the employer.

Disciplinary Action

Unauthorised absence is a disciplinary offence, it is classed as misconduct. Usually, this would be listed in a disciplinary policy as an example of misconduct under a non-exhaustive list. By having a specific offence listed in a disciplinary policy, it provides fair warning to employees of what will happen to them if they commit such an offence and helps to enable consistency across the workplace.

Unauthorised absence should be dealt with by a series of warnings which could ultimately end up with dismissal with notice. A straight dismissal for an unauthorised absence would be risky, if an employee has two or more years’ service, they might be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal against the employer.

However, some cases of unauthorised absence could be classed as gross misconduct, for example, if an employee has been refused holiday for certain dates, but they take the time off anyway. This would be unauthorised absence but could also be deemed as insubordination and could justify a more serious disciplinary sanction.

Employers need to consider each situation of unauthorised absence on an individual basis, employees will often have an excuse for failure to attend work. This can be confusion on their shift patterns or workdays which normally would not be an excusable reason, however, the sudden death of a family member or being involved in a serious accident would normally be sufficient to justify the absence.


Unauthorised Absence procedure

First Day of Absence

When an employee fails to attend work without having permission to be off work, reasonable attempts to contact the employee should be made. Some managers feel it is not their job to contact employees and feel that it is up to the employee to make contact, however, employers have a duty of care to their employees and should ensure contact is made or attempted as accidents on the way to the workplace can happen.

Attempts of contact should be made periodically throughout the day, contact can include phone calls to home or mobile numbers, emails, or text messages.

A record should be made of any attempts to contact an employee, including date, time method of contact and who the contact was made by.

If contact with an employee cannot be made and employers have an emergency contact detail for the employee on record, the emergency contact should be contacted and explained to them that the employee has not attended work or made contact and ask if they could make contact and ask the employee to get in touch.

As well as making contact via phone call, text or email, it is good practice to write to the employee expressing concern regarding their absence, stating that their absence is unauthorised and request they contact you as soon as possible. This letter is known as a letter of concern and can be sent out by post and/or email. It is a good idea in this letter to state when the employee must make contact by and also inform the employee if no contact is made then they could be requested to attend a disciplinary hearing.

If an employee makes contact later in the day or returns to work the following day, they will be required to explain their absence and provide reasons for their absence, an employer then needs to decide whether to proceed with disciplinary action at this stage.


Second Day of Absence

If an employee fails to attend for a second consecutive day, contact to the employee should be started again. If it is known that an employee lives on their own home visit may be appropriate to check on their wellbeing.

If no contact or information is received about the absence by the end of the second day, it would be reasonable to invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing to answer the allegation of their unauthorised absence. In the invite letter, full details of the absence should be provided along with information regarding contact attempts by the employer. Sufficient notice must be allowed for this meeting.

The letter should be sent out recorded delivery and a copy also sent via email if the employee has provided an email address to the employer, this will minimise the risk of the employee claiming they did not receive a letter.


Disciplinary Hearing

The disciplinary hearing should be conducted in line with the company’s normal disciplinary procedure.

If the employee fails to attend the disciplinary hearing and there has been no contact from the employee or any information received, the meeting should be rescheduled, and the employee allowed one more opportunity to attend.

The letter of invitation sent to the employee should be sent again by recorded delivery and to their email address if they have one. The letter should also state that it is a rescheduled disciplinary and if the employee fails to attend or make contact with the company then this will result in the hearing being held in the employees absence and a decision will be made in their absence.

If a disciplinary sanction is issued to the employee, then the employee must be given the right to appeal inline with the disciplinary policy.

An employee has the statutory right to be accompanied at any disciplinary hearing by either a colleague or a trade union representative.


If you would like further guidance on unauthorised absences or any other HR topic please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk


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