How to manage unauthorised absence from work

4 min read  |   3 February, 2021   By Rachael Down


Whether you're skiving, pulling a sickie, or bunking off, taking unauthorised absence from work is a serious matter, which can cause massive headaches for managers, HR departments as well as those who have to pick up your work.

Unsurprisingly, most companies frown on unauthorised absences, which can result in disciplinary action or grounds for dismissal. 

Most people recognise the strain that unauthorised absence from work puts on colleagues who have to make up the shortfall on behalf of the missing worker. Some even regard it as akin to theft.

Whatever your view, take control by providing clear guidance via employment contracts and absence management handbooks.  


What is unauthorised absence?

Unauthorised absence is failing to turn up for work without good reason.

This excludes:

  • where an employee has booked annual leave in advance;
  • properly notified genuine sickness;
  • absence due to maternity/paternity leave as well as time off for antenatal care and appointments; and

Unauthorised absence is when you take time away from work without providing a valid, authorised reason. It even covers absences where you don’t believe the excuse.


Absence management good practice

Make sure you're covered and take another look at your employee and company policies. Here's how to handle absence management the right way:

Employment contract

Plainly state what constitutes unauthorised absence in your employment contracts. Make sure you include how the company manages it and clearly define what the consequences are for unauthorised absence from the word go. 

Absence and sickness reporting

Record and measure absence and sickness. Whether you tackle this manually or automate it via an IT system, you can use it in retrospect to pick out any patterns of absence, such as someone who might have “Monday morning syndrome”.

Choose an HR-software that has a leave management feature. Ours, at Breathe does just what it says on the tin and can help trigger actions when an unauthorised absence is recorded.

Return-to-work interviews

Holding interviews with an employee when they return to work can help employee relations in a number of ways. Not only can you enquire after the employee's wellbeing and bring them up to speed with any company news they may have missed, but you can also determine the reasons for the absence. Moreover, holding such interviews can discourage employees from taking bogus days off if they think they might be quizzed about their absence on their return.


Steps to handle unauthorised absence from work

How you manage an unauthorised absence may depend on the length of time taken off and how – or if - the employee has tried to justify it. For example, you may deal differently with someone who's absent for one day than you would with someone who's absent for a prolonged period.

Regardless of circumstances, remember to remain fair and consistent in your management of unauthorised absences. Explain the company process to all managers to ensure they adopt the same approach with all staff and consistency across the company.

  • In the first instance, make reasonable efforts to contact the employee to determine the reason for the absence. Lack of contact from a usually reliable staff member may indicate that there is some sort of problem and that this isn’t a wilful unauthorised absence from work.
  • You can phone their home and mobile numbers, email and text them. If you are unable to make contact, then you may also try an emergency contact, if you have details on file. 
  • If there is still no contact, write a letter that details the unauthorised absence and requests an explanation. You can request that the staff member gets in touch within a certain time period, noting that if this does not happen, you will consider or instigate disciplinary action. Send the letter by a method that requires a signature so that you have proof of delivery. This, and all other attempts to contact the employee should be recorded as a matter of good HR practice.
  • Upon the employee’s return to work, meet and discuss the reasons for the absence. There may be a good reason for the absence after all, which perhaps the employee felt unable to discuss at the time. This could be a delicate medical issue, a personal or family problem, or a problem with a work colleague due to harassment or bullying. In such circumstances, the leave – although unauthorised – might be seen to be acceptable and steps can be taken to help the employee properly report absence in the future. The company can also address the issues or advise the employee how to raise a formal grievance.


Disciplinary warnings

Unauthorised absence from work is not typically classed as gross misconduct. Employment experts usually recommend that it should be handled with a succession of warnings, which, if ignored, results in the employee attending a disciplinary hearing.

Disciplinary hearing

If you are still without an adequate explanation as to the absence, or if your staff member has failed to show up for work after some days, or if your previous disciplinary warnings have gone unheeded, then you can hold a disciplinary hearing. Make sure to follow your company’s procedures for holding this hearing. 

You can hold this in the absence of the staff member, as long as you have given them reasonable notice of the hearing and are certain that they have received this. Explain that the absence was unauthorised and why that is so. If you believe that the employee’s continued unauthorised absence constitutes gross misconduct, then you may dismiss them for that. Write to them with the outcome of the disciplinary hearing and advise them that they may appeal the decision and how they can do this.



Absence management is an important part of the human resources role. When undertaken properly and with strong policies in place, you can protect your company against the detrimental aspects of unauthorised absence. You’ll reduce business disruption, prevent negative sentiment and low morale in the other staff, and reduce the costs that are associated with unauthorised absence.


Author: Rachael Down

With a passion for words, Content Specialist Rachel Down, is an experienced communicator with skills in journalism, content creation and web copy writing.

Back to listing

Sign up to get the latest HR and people management insights straight to your inbox