Dismissal for
Absence from Work

When is dismissal for absence from work justifiable?

Take the incident where an employee was fired for absence after twenty four years had passed. Is this sustainable?

"Man fired after not coming to work for 24 years" is a story about an employee whose termination took the employer more than twenty years to decide.

The sequence of events is as follows:

  1. December 1990: The employee, an engineer, took an earned leave. He did not come back to work.
  2. Employee applied for extension but was not approved.
  3. 1992: An inquiry was launched against employee.
  4. 2007: Charges were brought against employee.
  5. Now, the employee was dismissed "for unauthorized absence from duty."

The questions that arise:

  1. Can the employer terminate the employee for failure to act for 24 years?
  2. Is the employee entitled to his salaries for the period he was "in employment"?

Apparently, the employer can sack an employee who had not reported back for duty if his or her application for extended leave was not approved. The employee must return to active duty if leave application is not approved. Failure to do so is in contravention of the terms and conditions of employment, provisions of the employee handbook and the disciplinary rules of the organization.

The critical problem here was the failure by the employer to act promptly. This is condonation on their part. Had the employee come back to work after a certain period of time, the employer would have been prevented from sacking the employee.

However, continued absence would require termination of the employee from service. But it is stated that Indian laws do not allow termination. 

On the second question posed above, one commentator stated that the employee who is sacked is entitled to half of his salaries.

India is not the only country with very slow bureaucracy. But twenty four years is too long. Even in countries where the norm does not fall on the prompt side.

In normal circumstances, that is, where the organization has clearly spelt out what happens when an employee fails to report for duty, and where the country's employment laws are clear, the absent employee will receive a show cause letter. Lame excuses will not prevent disciplinary action against the employee concerned. The employer will hold a hearing after which a decision is taken either to dismiss the employee concerned or to impose less severe penalty. Long absence as in this case will result in dismissal.

On the entitlement to half of the employee to half of his salaries may seem reasonable. After all, the employee knew very well that his application for leave extension was not approved. He should have returned to work. But failure by the employer to act on time does not excuse them from being liable to pay some form of compensation. This is in spite of the fact that the law does not allow them to terminate an employee's employment. Here, the employment contract should take full effect.

In some countries, the employee is entitled to the full salaries.

On the face of the known facts, twenty four years is too long. It is hard to accept that it took the organization so long before decision on the dismissal for absence was taken.

The law must be reviewed and amended to ensure that there is no doubt as to what action employers are allowed to take in the case of absence without leave or permission and other misconduct on the part of employees.

Review Laws and Policies including those on Dismissal for Absence

In order to avoid cases such as the one mentioned above, organizations need to review relevant laws, rules and policies at regular intervals. This must include those laws and policies connected with dismissal for absence, ranging from less than a day to months or years.

Further, they need to updates themselves on legislation on employment.

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