Absenteeism, and how to manage it
December is always a difficult time of the year when it comes to time management and absenteeism!
Everybody had a good time and the morning after is a work day! Some can’t or just do not want to work
on those happy days and the employer must suffer the consequence! The conduct appears in a wide
array of circumstances from unauthorised absence, abuse of leave or sick leave, abscondment or desertion.
First, before an employer can charge an employee, the employer must identify the misconduct. Abuse of
sick leave often takes the form of fraudulent or fictitious sick notes being handed in for the days without
leave. Employers should ensure that they have clear rules dealing with notification of absence. Many
require the employee to get permission or inform the supervisor of the absence before the work day or
shift start. These rules are not always consistently applied and before you know it, employees assume
they can take off as they please and messages are being sent with colleagues, phone calls or SMS
messages are sent to everybody, but the supervisor or the manager.
As a general rule, leave, whether sick leave or vacation leave can only be taken with the consent of the
employer and employees who cannot apply for leave in time should still be required to phone or contact
the employer in time to inform them of the reasons of the absence and get permission. SMS messages
should generally not be allowed in this process. If the employee submits a suspect sick note, the
employer has the right to question and verify the sick note with the doctor who issued the note. If it has
prima facie proof of the sick note being forged or not legally obtained, it may refuse to accept the sick
note and charge the employee with unauthorised absence or fraud.
In SACCAWU obo Khakhatiba / Country Meat Market (Pty) Ltd 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 the
employee expressly intimate that they will not resume work. In all such cases, the onus rests on the
employee 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.
This type of offence is also very frequent and common. Abscondment and desertion are serious
offences, because it represents a breach of contract. Unauthorised absenteeism can also 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 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
(2008) 17 CCMA 8.17.1
1. (2008) 17 CCMA 8.17.1
2. (2009) 18 LC 1.11.43
3. (2002) 8 BLLR 693 (LAC).