Would you know what to do if someone went AWOL?

Unauthorised absence or absence without leave (AWOL) occurs when an employee fails to attend work without the absence being approved.

It can be terribly frustrating when this happens as you don’t know what’s going on with the employee: Are they OK? Will they be coming back? Should you get a replacement?

Do not make any rash decisions that could lead to possible claims of unfair dismissal or disability discrimination. Follow our tips below to manage the absence.

First things first: make contact

  • Call them!
  • If the AWOL is particularly out of character, then you may want to consider calling their emergency contact or calling by their house.
  • Next, write to them explaining the seriousness of the matter and outline your company policy on absence.
  • Give them a deadline date to get back to you.

No contact: start disciplinary proceedings

  • Follow the steps in your disciplinary policy
  • Send a disciplinary letter outlining the reasons for the disciplinary hearing and the time and date etc.
  • If the employee does not attend, you can rearrange, or you can hold it in their absence.


  • You need to demonstrate reasonableness with all your actions such as the amount of times you try to make contact and time frames.
  • It is not uncommon, and will usually be reasonable, for employers to regard AWOL as gross misconduct, warranting summary dismissal. However, as always, every case depends on its own facts.
  • You could also consider providing a further period of contact before a decision is implemented, as an additional fair step before dismissal occurs.

Obviously, there may be other scenarios that may happen with a period of AWOL. The employee may return to work or you may make contact and they refuse to come back to work. In both cases reasonableness should be considered and then using your absence and disciplinary process to guide you.  

Does your absence or disciplinary policy need updating?

Scroll to top
Call Now Button