What rights do company owners have when employees vacate their jobs without notice? Not showing up to work without having permission is considered absenteeism, however, the consequences of job abandonment are more serious and can lead to voluntary termination. While certain laws protect employers from maintaining team members who leave their jobs without notice, there are also laws that businesses must abide by when handling situations like this. Not doing so could result in unlawful termination, which could cause a lawsuit and legal fees. Knowing exactly what measures to take when an employee stops coming to work prevents this from occurring and negatively impacting the company.
Find out more about job abandonment, qualifications for it, reasons it happens, and how to prevent wrongful termination claims by reviewing the information below.
What Is Job Abandonment?
Job abandonment is when an employee vacates their job without communicating they are quitting. Unlike taking a sick day or PTO, the person stops coming to work without approval to do so. For legal protection, companies should determine a job abandonment policy and send employees a voluntary termination letter when this occurs.
Is Job Abandonment Illegal?
It depends on the person’s legal responsibility to fulfill their duties. For example, if a childcare provider is legally obligated to watch the children under their care, but decides they will abandon the children without supervision, this act could be considered illegal. However, in most cases, it is considered voluntary termination.
Job Abandonment Consequences
When a person abandons their job, it causes a ripple of consequences, all of which the company must pay for. Until the business finds a replacement, the organization suffers in more ways than one. Depending on the person’s position, it could stall the business’s progress on goals, affecting profitability and its ability to succeed. In turn, this can also cause serious damage like not being able to make payroll, pay the bills, or move forward on initiatives that require a specific skill set.
As these problems escalate over time, tension, stress, conflict, and work burnout increase, creating a toxic work environment. This results in even more employees quitting, which puts the organization in an even worse position. For this reason, address someone abandoning their job as soon as it occurs.
Most Common Reasons for Job Abandonment
There are no distinct reasons for leaving a job or why job abandonment happens. However, there are common patterns that employers might notice across a variety of different industries. To find out why an employee might vacate their job without warning, see some of the top causes below.
Why Job Abandonment Occurs
- Fearing being fired and receiving a termination letter without warning
- Wanting to avoid confrontation or difficult conversations
- Receiving a different job
- Feeling too emotionally, physically, or mentally exhausted by work
- Not understanding the company’s policy for abandoning work, absenteeism, or unlimited PTO
- Experiencing strife or conflict in the workplace
- Believing they might collect unemployment benefits if they stop coming to work (not valid)
How to Prevent Wrongful Termination Claims
Even when an employee abandons their job for one of the above reasons, employers must comply with laws that protect workers’ rights. While there are no federal or state job abandonment laws that individual workers must follow, businesses do have specific laws they must abide by. Such laws include the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which legally shield people from unlawful termination. For instance, FMLA gives people up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year should they or their family members be affected by health conditions or the birth or adoption of a child. Likewise, ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against or terminate someone because of the condition of their health. However, by following the tips below, employers can act within the law and successfully avoid wrongful termination claims.
1. Be Clear About What It Is
It’s difficult for employees to follow the business’s rules on abandoning their job if there isn’t one in place. For this reason, the first step in averting legal trouble is clearly defining the company’s job abandonment policy. Provide a copy of this during the onboarding process. Additionally, at this time, all workers should sign off that they understand and agree to these terms. Doing so establishes expectations and describes the differences between taking time off and when job abandonment occurs.
When creating company policies:
- Consult with an HR consultant, members of your HR team, or an attorney who is well-versed in employment law.
- Clearly define job abandonment, absenteeism, and paid time off policies in the employee handbook.
- Explain how each of these is different from one another.
- Outline the appropriate process for requesting leave or being excused for an absence.
- Give examples of correct ways to ask for time off versus incorrect ones.
- Communicate the repercussions of not adhering to these policies.
- Detail a step-by-step process for executives, directors, and managers to follow if an employee abandons their work.
- Provide the terms of voluntary or involuntary termination.
- Be specific about how many days result in voluntary termination. (Normally, a job abandonment letter is sent after three consecutive days of not showing up to work.)
Learn more about setting employee expectations.
2. Document Violations
Record all instances of tardiness and unexcused absences. By keeping a log of violations, employers can track who isn’t abiding by company rules. Try to automate this process as much as possible, as manually keeping time is a tedious process for busy companies. Time-keeping software like BambooHR, TimeClock Plus, and Rippling are all great options to manage time and attendance.
Monitoring absences and lateness also helps validate termination of employment. If the person is unhappy with the company’s decision, they might complain that they’re being treated unfairly and threaten legal action. Should this occur, businesses that keep great records can easily prove the team member was not in accordance with the company’s clearly stated attendance policies.
3. Always Contact Employees Before Terminating Them
As mentioned above, wrongful termination can occur if human resources let someone go without knowing whether or not a health condition, medical emergency, family event, disability, or uncontrollable circumstance like a natural disaster prevented them from coming into work. For this reason, it is crucial employers never assume they know why a person has an unexcused absence. Even when an employee is a “no-show,” it is the business’s responsibility to try and make contact with the person.
Before determining what is considered job abandonment:
- Keep a record of every time the company tried to speak with the team member.
- Include information about the call or message. For instance, did the person pick up the phone and hang up? Details like this matter in case an employee tries to file a lawsuit.
- Send a job abandonment letter via certified mail to the person’s home address. Write the letter on the company’s letterhead and let them know they’re in violation of the business’s job abandonment policy which will result in voluntary termination of employment. Additionally, communicate the next steps. This includes a timeline for the employee’s last official day, when they will receive their final paycheck, and when they will no longer receive insurance coverage should they not contact the business. The standard for this is five business days, giving the person a minimum of one week to get in touch with their employer.
4. Never Make Assumptions About What Happened
Similar to tip number two, human resources shouldn’t rush to judgment and automatically fire someone who doesn’t show up for work. As communicated earlier, this could result in a legal suit. Instead of jumping to conclusions, meet with employees who abandoned their job, but return to work within three days. Don’t put this on hold—request a time to chat that day. They might also call and inform you of why they haven’t been at work, but it is still best to have this conversation in person.
During the meeting:
- Ask questions to gather more information about the situation at hand. For example, this might look like saying, “Can you tell me more about what caused this to happen?” or “How can we better support you to make sure this doesn’t occur again?”
- Actively listen and accept reasonable excuses.
- Explain how unexcused absences impact the business, its people, and customers.
- Be clear about the repercussions for unexcused absences as stated in the employee handbook.
- Don’t leave the meeting until you’ve worked out a plan with the employee that prevents job abandonment. For example, this might look like making sure an immediate family member has your phone number and email address in the event a medical emergency happens.
5. Implement the Company Job Abandonment Policy Across the Board
Leaders should create the conditions for a work environment where employees can build strong relationships with each other. When an executive or manager lets absences slide, they teach team members that being irresponsible is acceptable behavior. Under great leadership, people become more accountable to one another, not less. Additionally, leaders who don’t uphold the rules they create also communicate that lacking integrity—or not doing what you’ll say you’ll do—is okay, too. Overall, this harms relationships and does nothing to benefit the business. It is better to maintain the rules across the board so employees learn how to be great teammates who actively practice company values.
To avoid problems with the implementation of policies:
- Practice assertive communication and stick to the facts when a person crosses a boundary or fails to meet expectations.
- Let them know what they did wrong, why it matters, and how to move forward.
- Don’t show favoritism.
- Be consistent in monitoring no-shows and unexcused absences.
Termination of Employment: Making the Decision
As Paul Foster, founder of The Business Therapist states, “Dealing with employee issues can be difficult, but not dealing with them can be worse.” Officially letting a team member go with a job abandonment letter is not an easy choice, but it is necessary if a person refuses to respect the company’s attendance policies. As mentioned above, the absence of someone vital to the organization can put business owners, the company, and other workers in a serious bind.
Leaders are responsible for making tough employment calls—they must decide how to build a team and organization that thrives. If this can’t be done because certain employees aren’t returning to work, then it is best to find people who have a hunger for fulfilling the business’s mission. These are the ideal team players who drive goals toward completion and take the business to the next level. Don’t let the fear of lawfully terminating someone hold you back from ensuring the company reaches its full potential. It doesn’t do a service to you, your team, or your clients.
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