When my employee goes on unauthorised holiday, what can I do?

The Summer holidays are in full swing and many people, especially those with school-aged children, hope to have some time away from work during the next few weeks for some rest and relaxation.

So, what happens when your employee requests a period of annual leave that you are not able to approve, perhaps because other employees are already off at the same time or the business is in peak season, but they decide to go anyway?

This is a question we were asked this week after a client’s employee had gone on holiday even though their request had been rejected some time ago.  The employer had tried several times unsuccessfully to contact their employee when they failed to turn up for work as expected and were subsequently informed by a colleague that the individual was actually sunning themselves in Corfu!

As the employee was not responding to their employer’s calls, texts or emails, we advised the Company to send a letter to the employee’s home and email address, asking the employee to make contact as soon as possible to notify the reason for their absence from work.  We also advised that the letter warned if the employee had gone on holiday without authorisation, an investigation would take place on their return to work which may result in disciplinary action.

When the employee returns to work, the next step is to arrange a meeting to discuss the reason for their absence and decide whether to initiate the Company’s disciplinary procedure.  As with any other disciplinary matter, an investigation should be carried out before requesting the employee to attend a formal disciplinary hearing.  It is important to follow the disciplinary procedure in full, including providing sufficient notice of the hearing and written reasons of the allegation, and notifying the employee of their right to be accompanied.

The disciplinary outcome in this situation will depend on the particular circumstances of the case and may range from a written warning through to dismissal.  The severity of the sanction will be driven by the length of time the employee was absent from work and the difficulties their unauthorised absence caused the business. 

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, so it is always better to try and reduce the chances of an employee taking unauthorised leave in the first place.  The best way of doing this is to have clear rules regarding holidays set down in writing (either in the employment contract or Employee Handbook) explaining:

  • How holidays should be requested and how much notice is required in advance;
  • That the employer reserves the right to refuse holiday requests if other employees are already off during the same period or business needs dictate;
  • That employees should not make holiday plans until approval has been obtained in writing from the Company;
  • That any periods of unauthorised leave will be classed as a disciplinary matter and may result in dismissal.

We do not yet know the fate of our client’s rogue employee but are certain that the benefits of his holiday in the sun will be long forgotten when he returns to work!

If you need any help with a similar situation, or anything HR or employment related, please do get in touch – we are here to help!

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