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Payday! The Payroll Officer (PO) has reviewed all the timesheets and comes across an unexplained absence. The PO talks to the HR Manager to confirm the reason for the absence. The HRM can’t find any documentation that could provide a reason. There are no emails, no notes or texts, nothing to indicate a reason for the absence.

The PO and HRM call the Floor Supervisor (FS) and ask whether they know what happened on that day. The FS remembers the day but not any reason for the Employee’s absence. He calls out to the team “Anybody know why Charlie was away last week?”. It appears an insignificant event and nobody can recall any reason, just that Charlie was not at work on that day.

At morning tea, the HRM and FS have an informal discussion about unexplained absences. Then the FS remembers a short conversation with Charlie about an event Charlie had hoped to get leave for and remembers telling Charlie to discuss the situation with the HRM to get the required permission. Unfortunately, Charlie had already used all his available annual leave.

This scenario is all too common.

Section 4 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 states that there is an implied mutual obligation of trust and confidence between Employers and Employees, that requires both parties to actively develop constructive and responsive communication.

And there lies the rub, without any communication, Charlie effectively took unauthorised leave. In terms of the good faith obligations, it is not an unfair expectation that Employees notify Employers as soon as practicable of any absence that may occur. In all honesty, not only is it a common courtesy for the Employer but for fellow work mates and certainly for the clients that rely on the business of the Employer. An unexplained, unauthorised absence has real potential to derail many expectations.

But what is the difference between authorised or unauthorised absences? In a nutshell: the absence is authorised where the Employer accepts the reason for the Employee’s absence (either prior to the date or on the day of the absence whether paid or not or after the day of leave). If the Employer either does not approve it in advance (i.e. Employee does not notify that they are going to be absent), rings in and just leaves a message or rings in and the Employer advises that the absence is not authorised – this would be deemed to be an unauthorised absence.

In situations where paid leave entitlements ended, three potential problems arise:

  • Random unauthorised absence – where the Employee rings up to say they are not coming in or where they fail to notify of their absence
  • Repetitive pattern of unauthorised absence (i.e. regular Mondays also colloquially known as Mondayits)
  • Random but frequent unauthorised absence – different day but regularly occurring

Fortunately, the process to manage absenteeism is the same for all three problems and for paid leave. Employers, Managers and Supervisors really need to be trained in the proc ess as it is easy for an Employee to ring in, make up an excuse and the ‘manager’ simply replies with a ‘thanks for letting us know’ – the Employee could claim that this comment implied acceptance and therefore the leave was authorised.

We will happily review your current ‘Leave’ Policy or help you formulate one for your Employment Handbook to update your documentation

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