Job Abandonment: What to Do When Employees Fail to Show Up

Imagine you’re in the middle of a busy rush. Luckily, one of your employees should be showing up for their shift any minute now. 10 minutes go by. Then 30. Suddenly, three hours have gone by and your team’s scrambling to catch up with the customers for the day. Is this job abandonment?

As a business owner, what do you do when an employee just stops showing up?

In this article, we break down what job abandonment is, how it’s different from quitting, and what you should do when an employee fails to show up for work. 

What is job abandonment?

Job abandonment is the act of an employee not showing up for work. Specifically, it’s when someone stops showing up with zero contact or explanation. There isn’t one definition of job abandonment, so the amount of days that is technically considered “abandonment” differs according to business policy.

Job abandonment shouldn’t be confused with absenteeism. Absenteeism happens when employees habitually miss work days away from the office for actual reasons. For example, an employee can take a vacation, then take PTO because they got sick, and then have an extended family emergency all back-to-back.

Is job abandonment illegal?

It’s not illegal to abandon your job. However, employees who abandon their job can still receive severe consequences for abandoning their post. For example, let’s say this employee tries to find a role elsewhere. As an employer, you can be honest that they failed to show up, which could hurt their chances of getting a new job. 

Job abandonment is also different for employees under contract. Contracted employees may be required to fulfill certain obligations as outlined by the contract, regardless of whether or not they abandoned their role. If this is the case, it’s up you as the employer to choose what to do if they didn’t deliver the product outlined in their contract.

Common reasons for job abandonment

There are many different reasons for why an employee might abandon their job. Here are a few to consider:

  • A genuine emergency: It’s easy to jump to conclusions. However, most of the time there’s a logical reason why an employee may miss a shift without communication. As an employer, it’s important to do your due diligence and reach out to an employee’s emergency contacts to see if something’s up.
  • Miscommunication regarding scheduling: Sometimes employees no-call, no-show a shift because they simply didn’t know they were scheduled that day. To prevent this from happening, be sure to have one source of truth for schedule information so employees know exactly when they’re scheduled to work.
  • Feeling uncomfortable discussing their absence: An employee may choose not to discuss their absence with you. To ensure transparent communication with your employees, it’s important to provide a safe space for your employee to be transparent, and they feel safe discussing any issues with you.

What are the consequences of job abandonment?

Job abandonment can lead to a lot of issues for employers. An employee abandoning their post can be hard to manage, especially if it’s unclear if they’ll return. Here are a few ways job abandonment can affect employers:

  • Major loss in productivity: Employers often staff employees based on the amount of work that needs to be completed. If an employee doesn’t show up to their post multiple days in a row, that’s multiple days of work that’s not completed.
  • Disruption of day-to-day operations: If the employee in question is an integral part of the team, their absence may cause a major disruption in operations. For example, if your restaurant loses their head chef multiple days in a row, finding someone to take their place might be challenging. After all, it’s not your sous chef’s responsibility to take on the extra work with no extra pay.
  • The cost of rehiring a new employee: Hiring and training a brand new employee is expensive. If an employee abandons their role, you have to go through the entire hiring and onboarding process again to bring a replacement up to speed.

What to do if an employee abandons their job

We get it: preparing for employees to just not show up isn’t how you want to spend your time. Yet as the boss, it’s important to set up policies to ensure your bases are covered—just in case. If your business already has a job abandonment policy in place and your employee has met those qualifications of abandonment, here’s what to do.

Contact the employee

If you notice that your employee is absent without notice, the first step is to try to contact them to figure out if they’re okay. Maybe they forgot they were working that day, or they were clearly too sick to work. If that’s the case, you can continue with any disciplinary action. 

If you don’t hear back and they miss a second shift, that may be cause for concern. It’s time to get in touch with the employee’s emergency contact if you haven’t already. Continue doing this until they have reached your company’s policy for what is considered job abandonment. 

Tip: Avoid staff missing their shifts by using an easy digital schedule. Homebase lets you create schedules, swap shifts, and send updates to the entire team.

Document communication attempts

Keep track of every time you attempt contact to ensure that you’re doing your due diligence as an employer. Documenting how many times you contacted the employee is helpful in the event that this scenario turns into a larger legal issue. Track when you reached out, the form of contact used, and the result.

Ensure the employee’s future shifts are covered

Okay: it’s reached the point in time when an employee has abandoned their post. Now, you need to cover the employee’s future shifts as much as possible. While you might not be able to hire someone right away, talk with your existing team to see if anybody is willing to cover some extra shifts or is willing to work overtime to cover the missing gaps temporarily.

Complete a termination procedure after contacting the employee

After doing your due diligence trying to contact your employee to the best of your abilities, it’s time to plan for termination. If you’ve been unable to contact them, send them a termination letter via email, snail mail, and document it within your system. 

Within your termination letter, include the reason for termination and your job abandonment policy clearly stated within the the letter. That way, if the employee does ever contact you regarding their position, you’re able to discuss with them the situation and why they were terminated.

Make sure you’re covering your HR bases by using a tool like Homebase, which makes digital documentation easy, and even provides compliance support.

Best practices to avoid job abandonment

Job abandonment can cause a lot of headaches and administrative work for employers. It’s best to implement policies that help prevent abandonment from happening in the first place. Here are a few policies that can help prevent job abandonment from happening. 

Create a clear process for how to call out of work

If an employee isn’t sure what they need to do to call out of work, some may be embarrassed to ask. Or, they might just not show up. Create a clear process for how an employee can call out of work, and share it with your team

Create policies for employees to switch shifts to accommodate for unexpected events 

One of the common ways employers provide autonomy to their employees? Giving them the opportunity to switch shifts. Employees typically appreciate having more control of their own schedule. That way if something comes up, they can manage their schedule on their own.

Allow opportunities to request for time off

Providing your employees the ability to request for specific days off or times off helps to prevent job abandonment. Create policies that alert employees of when schedules are being made, and when they need to submit their time off request. If an employee requests specific days or times off far in advance, they’re doing their due diligence. The best things employers can do is to respect that request and accommodate it as much as possible. 

Be transparent regarding shifts and communication

Establish a clear process for when the schedule is going to be released. Employees should know at least a few days in advance when they’re going to work. That gives them plenty of time to switch shifts or plan around their schedule. 

Be clear about how communication happens, and where. The best way to do this is by using an employee scheduling tool like Homebase that helps clearly outline who is working when, and how to communicate to team members. Start for free today!

Job abandonment FAQs

Should your business have a job abandonment policy?

All businesses should have a job abandonment policy. Creating a job abandonment policy helps to minimize your company’s liability, and helps protect your business from potential wrongful termination lawsuits.

How many days is considered job abandonment?

There’s no federal definition for what is considered job abandonment. Most businesses define job abandonment by a certain number of days or hours an employee goes without showing up for a shift without communication. Most companies consider at least 72 hours of an employee not calling or showing up for their shift as job abandonment.

Is job abandonment the same as quitting?

Job abandonment isn’t the same thing as quitting. Quitting requires a formal explanation from an employee to an employer that details when they plan to work their last shift. Job abandonment happens when employees fail to show up for their scheduled shifts, and employers receive no notice from their employee

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