What are the elements of absenteeism and when can an employee be dismissed for this type of misconduct?
Absenteeism can be defined in late coming, absences from the employee’s workstation and absences from the workplace itself for short periods.
An employee is obliged to render a service for the employer during agreed hours of work. Wilful absence from work can constitute a breach of the contract of employment and may justify termination of the contract summarily. Even absence for reasons beyond the employee’s control may constitute a ground for termination when the period of absence becomes unreasonable. An employer is also not entitled to dismiss an employee summarily for a trifling absence which cause little or no prejudice to the employer. Brief absence from work rarely warrant dismissal at first instance, unless the employee has by being absent committed another act of misconduct, such as insubordination or participation in an unlawful strike, or where there is no pattern that the employee is suffering from a chronic illness.
According to the employer’s disciplinary code penalties can be given for absenteeism: On the first occasion the employee is issued with a verbal warning, or counselled; on the second occasion, the employee is given a written warning and the third occasion a final warning. Dismissal is normally justified only if employees fail to heed final warnings, but even then the employer must still prove that the final absence did in fact amount to absenteeism.
The elements of the offence of absenteeism are that the employee must have been absent from work at a time when the employee was contractually obliged to render a service to the employer, and the employee had no reasonable excuse for his or her absence. One of the many reasons for dismissal is that the employee failed to inform the employer immediately of the reason for their absence. Employees cannot be guilty of absenteeism at times when they are not contractually obliged to render a service. Employees are authorised to take leave, sick leave or maternity leave and are entitled to stay away from work for the duration of the leave period, unless it becomes apparent that an employee is abusing the leave and the employer instructs the employee to return. If not the employee can be charged for absenteeism.
Author: Lucindi van Zyl