Abscondment Unauthorised Absence and Desertion
First, the employer must identify the misconduct.
the commissioner noted that a distinction is to be drawn between abscondment, desertion
and absenteeism. Abscondment is deemed to have occurred when the employee has been absent from
work for a time that warrants the inference that the employee no longer intends to resume work.
Desertion is deemed to take place when employees expressly intimate that they will not resume work.
In the case of abscondment and desertion the employer can dismiss the employee if the employer
afforded the employee with an opportunity to explain the absence.
Depending on the circumstances and the time period, unauthorised absence will probably not result in a
dismissal for a first offence, especially where the employee had a reasonable explanation or reason for
These types of offences are also very frequent and common. Abscondment and desertion are serious
offences, because it represents a breach of contract and costs the employer a great deal of money, it
causes upset in the workplace because other employees have to pick up the workload of the absent
employee. Depending on the nature and duration, a first offence of unauthorised absence will not
necessarily be a dismissible offence.
Unauthorised absenteeism could include taking extended tea breaks or lunch breaks, extended toilet
breaks or smoke breaks, being absent for a day or days without consent. Any instance where an
employee is away from his workplace without authority, constitutes an authorised absenteeism.
The case of Jammin Retail (Pty) Ltd v Mokwane & others again investigated the requirements for
abscondment. It confirmed the principles as set in the leading authority for the approach to be adopted
when dealing with absconding from work - South African Broadcasting Authority v CCMA.
In this case it was held that where an employer has an effective means of communicating with an employee who is
absent from work, the employer has an obligation to give effect to the audi alterem partem rule before
the employer can take the decision to dismiss such an employee for his absence from work or for his
failure to report for duty.” The employer must therefore hold an abscondment hearing before it
dismisses the employee, after everything possible has been done to locate the employee.
In Mtshinindo v Cashbuild, Hillfox the employee was dismissed after six days’ absence from work. He
claimed that his wife had telephoned the manager of the store at which he worked and informed him
that he was being treated by a sangoma. The employer claimed that the employee was not dismissed,
but that his employment had terminated automatically in terms of the disciplinary code, which deemed
an employee to have absconded if he or she was absent from work for longer than three days. The
commissioner held that, notwithstanding the provisions of the disciplinary code, absence from work for
longer than three days does not necessarily mean that an employee has absconded, or that the
termination of his contract does not constitute a dismissal. To prove abscondment, the employer must
prove that the employee formed the intention of not resuming work. The employer failed to prove that
the employee did not telephone his manager and the commissioner found that he had been dismissed
(2008) 17 CCMA 8.17.1
Mpact Ltd v National Bargaining Council for the wood and paper sector  BLLR 2266 (LC) and Tubatse Chrome Pty Ltd v Metal and Engineering
Industries Bargaining Council  BLLR 2333 (LC) Kievitskroon Country estate Pty Ltd v Mmoledi and others (2012) 33 ILJ 2812( LAC)
(2009) 18 LC 1.11.43
 8 BLLR 693 (LAC).
(2009) 18 CCMA 8.17.2, reported in  8 BALR 838 CCMA