The simply answer is ‘yes they can’. They can choose not to turn up at work. There are consequences, but they do have that right. The real question underpinning all the hype about Nadine Dorries’ appearance in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here relates to the detailed nature of to her absence from work. Was it planned and agreed, or was it an unauthorised absence?
So, what to do when an employee goes missing? When someone wanders off or doesn’t attend work, a caring employer would firstly attempt to find out what’s going on before making any decisions or jumping to conclusions. Not turning up for work is a breach of contract and is, technically, subject to relevant investigation and meetings. And dismissal could be a sanction for gross misconduct if proven.
TimelessTime recommends that the first action an employer should take is to try to establish where the person is. Are they sick? Have they had an accident on the way to work? Is there a legitimate reason for their absence? If it is not possible to contact the person, or their emergency contacts, then write to the person asking them to get in touch. You should write a letter even if it is delivered by email. Give a deadline for this contact. If there is no contact by the deadline, a second letter can be sent explaining that they are in breach of contract and if they don’t get in touch by a set date you will assume they have decided to terminate their employment with you. Given no response by the agreed date, the person should be dealt with using the normal company resignation process.
Employers may have policies that allow leave under certain circumstances – for example unusually long holiday, or as in this case the ability to take part in a TV programme. Such leave would be agreed in advance and may include elements of paid holiday and unpaid leave.
Some firms have career break policies whereby, subject to agreement, individuals can take an extended period of leave. Career breaks for extended periods tend to require the individual to resign and therefore there is actually no requirement for the business to take the person back. This type of leave would be used where someone perhaps wants to travel the world, or take a six-month sabbatical to undertake voluntary work in a developing country.
Each time, the key question comes back to whether or not leave of absence has been agreed – be it normal holiday allocation or unpaid leave. If agreed, then there is no issue with what Nadine Dorries did.
What the Chief Whip must remember, and what every business owner and manager must remember, is that there is a process to be followed when dealing with errant employees. Not following due process causes problems. We have seen many a high profile problem where ministers dabble in employment affairs for which they are ill-qualified. Ed Balls’ on-air dismissal of Sharon Shoesmith cost the Government £2million following her successful tribunal claim. It always does to take a deep breath and get expert help before diving in to judge.