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HR – What to do When . . . Staff go AWOL – Part 1

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Relations and Best Practice requirements.

Most employers rely rather heavily on their employees to get the job done, not only in the Corporate world, but also in the world of the SMME. Unfortunately, it’s the SMME, who shoulder the biggest burden of ‘growing’ the economy and who have the greatest difficulty in ‘wading through the red tape’, who will ultimately foot the largest of all bills, when they try and dismiss AWOL staff without following the correct procedures! How sad is that?

Let’s face it, employers need their staff to be present at work in order for the deliverables to take place. In a Corporate environment, a staff member who doesn’t pitch for a day or two can become a minor irritant in the grand scheme of things simply because there is usually another person who can ‘step up to the plate’. Whilst this is not ideal in the long term, in the short term it is something that can possibly be lived with.

This however is not the case with a typical Small Business. Usually there is the Business owner (lets call him Mike) who is the CEO, MD, HR Manager, IT Manager, Sales Manager, Administration Manager, Operations Manager, Counselor and general dogs body, and then there is one staff member, who shall we say is the driver who delivers everything. Let’s call him George.

Let’s take a typical scenario – it’s been the Easter weekend. The Company is in a state of animated suspension, because being this time of the year there are 3 or more public holidays during the month, which means that productivity has to be increased for the other 19 or less working days in order to meet the targets set for the month. The Tuesday morning after 4 days off – George does not pitch for work, and not only does George not pitch, he does not phone in or get anyone to contact Mike.

Now what! Torn between wanting to throttle George, because there are 50 urgent deliveries to make! Mike still has to continue with his work, meetings, sales, meeting of targets and so on, Mike is also concerned about George’s well being. What if he has been in an accident – we all know what the roads are like over Easter and we all know what kind of condition the taxi’s are in as well. Mike calls George’s cell phone number and the call goes straight to voice mail. The home telephone number that Mike has for George, just rings. George’s girlfriend hasn’t heard from him for months and in fact wants nothing to do with him at all! The cold reality of the situation is that Mike cannot get hold of George at all.

Mike decides to just get on with the job at hand and hopes that George will either call in or come back to work the next day.

The next day dawns bright and early and an exhausted Mike eagerly awaits the arrival of his driver – no George, no phone call, no nothing! Again Mike gets on with what needs to be done in order for his business to continue operating. Mike at this point is still torn, but more on the side of ‘What the hell is George playing at’!

The next day sees Mike dragging himself into the office. He is fit to drop because in order for his company to meet the targets, deliverables etc., Mike has had to work through the night and the strain is more than beginning to tell! Again he is faced with an impossible amount of deliveries, as well as all the appointments that he has made in order to promote and make his sales targets. Most of these appointments were really difficult to get and would be impossible to re-schedule, without him losing credibility – needless to say, if the deliveries are not made, he will also lose clients and his income will suffer, not to mention cash flow and all the other realities that come with owning you own business. Mike is now no longer even the slightest bit interested in finding out what George’s problem is – all he wants to do is get rid of him!

Sounds familiar – doesn’t it?

Well here’s not what to do – don’t just fire the guy! This action will sure as hell come back to bite you in the rear end and when I say bite you – it will take chunks out!

Let’s have a look at the facts – take the emotion out of the whole thing and just look at the facts.

On the one hand

• George is absent without leave and/or any kind of authority
• George has not contacted the office to let Mike know what (if any) the problem is.
• No-one has called in on George’s behalf.
• Mike has not been able to contact George in any way.
• Mike has no way of knowing when or indeed if, George is ever coming back and clearly Mike cannot cope on his own.

On the other hand
• The law necessitates that a disciplinary hearing needs to take place, in order for Mike to dismiss George, in a legally compliant manner.
• The law states that George is entitled to participate in a disciplinary brought against him because he has the right to know what the charges are against him, and he also has the right to defend himself.
• Mike cannot get George to a hearing because he cannot locate George.

The bottom line is that the very offence of being absent without leave is preventing Mike from disciplining George.

Next week we will have a look at how to resolve this dilemma.