Should employers deal with all types of unauthorised absence in the same way?
No. Unauthorised absence may take various forms. It can take the form of an isolated unplanned absence for a good reason (for example to care for a dependant in the event of an emergency) or a persistent pattern of unauthorised absences (for example "Monday morning syndrome"). Alternatively, an employee may "go AWOL", taking an extended period of unauthorised absence. The length of, and reason for, the absence should determine how the employer deals with it.
While unauthorised absence without good cause is a disciplinary offence, an employer faced with an incidence of unauthorised absence should investigate the situation and hear the employee's explanation, before it takes formal action.
Clearly, employers need to be consistent, fair and non-discriminatory in how they deal with unauthorised absence, or risk being liable in the event of an unfair dismissal and/or unlawful discrimination claim. However, the level of action that is appropriate for an employer to take in respect of unauthorised absence will depend on the circumstances of the case. For example, an employee who takes a one-off day of unauthorised absence for a good reason would normally be treated differently to an employee who has a prolonged period of absence without proper cause and who repeatedly fails to return the employer's attempts to contact them.