Help, my employee just went AWOL!

Help, my employee just went AWOL!

Dear Aunty B,

Just wondering what would be the best process to handle a case where a staff member just went AWOL.

He came into work today and explained he had a few personal issues, which when he described them did not seem that bad unless we didn’t get the whole story.

He confirmed that he is reading too much into his ‘issue’ and said he needs a cigarette. (We have a non-smoking policy but are lenient.)

Thirty minutes later we went looking for him and his car was gone.

After a number of calls and texts, there was no response. We contacted his next of kin, who was also worried about him. Four hours later I get a call from his next of kin saying he is home and he wants a couple of hours sleep before he speaks to us.

  • What is my legal obligation here?
  • He is a new employee (only four weeks)
  • How would you recommend I handle the staff member regarding a warning?

I am just gobsmacked how someone can do this, especially considering this person is in his mid-30s. He also let down the team as they are having to pick up the slack.


Worried and confused


Dear Worried and confused,

When an employee is absent without leave, I think it’s important to find out exactly why they went AWOL. Everyone has moments in their life where they make a dumb decision. As an employer, you need to work out why this dumb decision was made, if it was reasonable given the circumstances, and if you think he might be prone to make a similar decision again.

Because your staff member has only been with you for four weeks, he is not covered by unfair dismissal laws (employees are covered after six months), meaning you probably could dismiss him for misconduct if you feel that is appropriate. But I think you should find out exactly what’s going on here before making that choice.

Employees are entitled to 10 days of personal leave a year, but they should notify their employer as soon as possible when they wish to take that leave, so you have the opportunity to make other arrangements. Employees are not entitled to skip out on work without a valid reason.

The first thing you’ll need to do is give him a letter of allegation (it’s always better to do this in writing). Ask him to provide a written response as to why he was absent from work on Monday.

If the reason is legitimate, such as mental or personal health issues, you should let the guy know you can be flexible around such issues, but you need him to go through the appropriate procedures to take personal leave. Let him know how the rest of the team struggles in a situation like this.

If the reason he gives you is BS, you can give him a written warning or consider a termination. As this appears to be a once-off and not a sign of broader behavioural issues, I think a formal warning directing him to the proper leave procedures would be appropriate.

Then, if it does happen again, it’s all documented and you have a much stronger position to make the termination. But before things get messy, it’s always a better idea to open the communication lines.

Be smart

You Aunty B


What are you waiting for? Email your questions, problems and issues to right now.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.