Can an employer lawfully dismiss an employee whose absence is not authorised?

Whether or not an employer can lawfully dismiss an employee for unauthorised absence depends on the reason for, and length of, the absence and the procedure that the employer follows. It will be difficult for an employer to argue successfully that its dismissal of an employee for one day's unauthorised absence that was taken for a good reason was fair. However, if the unauthorised absence is prolonged, persistent and/or not for a genuine reason, dismissal is more likely to be fair, provided that the employer follows a fair procedure.

In seeking to follow a fair procedure, the employer should: provide the employee with details of the allegations against him or her in writing together with any supporting evidence; write to the employee to invite him or her to attend a disciplinary meeting; give the employee the opportunity to put his or her case forward; allow the employee to be accompanied at the disciplinary meeting by a trade union representative or colleague; and give the employee the right of appeal against the dismissal.

If an employee's absence is prolonged and he or she fails to respond to the employer's attempts to contact him or her, the employer may need to carry out the disciplinary hearing in the employee's absence. It should write to the employee inviting him or her to a hearing and to advise that it will proceed in the employee's absence if necessary.