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Employee absence or abandonment?

Over the past year, many managers have had to adjust to supervising a remote team for the first time. This situation may naturally raise questions about proper managing procedure.

For instance, managers may encounter challenges with keeping track of remote workers who seem to be absent but fail to explain their absence. Such circumstances could lead to legal claims and should be handled with care.

Employers might overreact and simply assume absent workers have abandoned their work responsibilities. Due to this assumption, absent employees are often treated as if they have resigned without communicating their plans with the employer. However, taking hasty steps might lead to an employer facing wrongful dismissal claims.

When does an absence qualify as abandonment?

Even when the situation lacks communication from the worker, clear evidence to show that the worker intended to end the employment is necessary. Furthermore, it must be clear that the employer accepted the situation after reasonable attempts to make contact with the employee. An employer may not simply use an employee absence as an excuse to rid the company of an employee whose presence is no longer desired.

Employee conduct that might indicate abandonment

An employer may reasonably deem an employee to have abandoned their position if:

  • The employee provided no explanation for their absence from work
  • The employee disregarded workplace procedures and policies concerning work attendance
  • The employee accepted other employment, moved to another city or engaged in other voluntary actions that made continued employment impossible

Employer conduct that might indicate wrongful dismissal

Cases treated as abandonment by employers could be classed as wrongful dismissal in the following circumstances:

  • Employee absence was for a brief period
  • No attempts were made by the employer to reach the employee
  • The employer was overly formal and insisted on the strict following of procedures to report absences
  • There was evidence indicating the employer’s intend to terminate the employee for other reasons, and the employer used abandonment as a convenient excuse

This is a time of school closures, fluctuating workplaces, employment shortages and significant chances of employee illness – or even family illness. Both employers and employees in British Columbia could benefit from avoiding hasty decisions regarding the consequences of uncontrollable circumstances that may arise. Resources are available to discuss employment law and various options rather than facing preventable legal complications.

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