Employee Relations

What to Do if an Employee Goes AWOL

employee at doctors office

There are a lot of reasons why one of your employees might simply not turn up for work one day – ranging from a simple hangover to a critically ill family member.

Normally, employees who cannot make it to work will notify their employer by ‘calling in sick’. But in certain situations – especially emergencies – they may be unable to follow normal company protocol, and decide instead to simply deal with the consequences later.

AWOL is an abbreviation for Absent Without Leave. In other words, they haven’t told anybody that they won’t be showing up today. One question I’ve been asked a few times, is “What do I do if an employee is AWOL?”.

So, here’s my advice:

1. Plan for Emergency Absences

Before you even get to the point where an employee is AWOL and you don’t know what to do, you should put an Emergency Absence Protocol in place. This sounds complicated, but it really isn’t – it’s as simple as giving each employee a designated contact who they can reach out to in a pinch.

For example, you might have each team manager give a mobile telephone number to the people they manage. In the event of an emergency, their team members can simply fire a quick text to this person, who can then report the absence to the appropriate person(s).

This should not replace whatever regular absence reporting system you have in place, and employees should be aware that it is only for emergencies. Of course, it will not put a complete stop to employees going AWOL, but it will certainly help to curb those instances where your employees have a good reason for not showing up.

2. Try to Make Contact

It helps to have a set waiting time in a place before you contact a missing employee – if you start calling 15 minutes after a shift is due to start, you might find you’re wasting a lot of time chasing employees who are simply late for work. (Handling lateness is a separate issue altogether, and we won’t be covering it in this article)

A good rule to work by might be to start calling AWOL employees an hour into the shift, but of course, this will always depend on the nature of your business – if the person has a critical role, you might need to make arrangements for emergency cover and therefore aim to contact them sooner.

To make contacting employees easier, you should keep their contact details in an easily-accessible place. If you use HR software, make sure you add contact details to each employee record, as well as emergency contact details – if you’re worried about your employee’s safety, you may need to use these.

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3. Further Action

If you’ve tried to make contact with an employee but haven’t managed, then you will need to make temporary arrangements to ensure the business can continue as normal, and then deal prepare for what’s next:

-Your employee turns up for work or makes contact. Remember that going AWOL is not normally grounds for dismissal. It is, however, grounds for disciplinary action – unless your employee has a very good reason, in which case you should not take further action. The action you take at this stage will be largely influenced by discretion – how much the absence has impacted operations, the reason for the employee’s absence, and of course their track record.

-Your employee remains absent and misses multiple shifts. If you’ve been unable to make contact, and nobody at work has any knowledge of their whereabouts, you might want to consider using the employee’s emergency contact details to try and get hold of a family member or friend. If you are genuinely concerned about your employee’s well-being, you might want to file a missing person’s report (here’s the link for further instructions if you’re based in the UK).