We advise employers to address labour as a business risk proactively in order to promote a working environment with reduced conflict, friction and misunderstanding, which in turn creates a structured environment receptive for growth.

Absenteeism is a common issue in the workplace with a huge impact on business activities. The employer must address absenteeism effectively to ensure productivity.

What does absenteeism mean?

Apart from not being at work, absenteeism also means:

  • Arriving late (it is still absence as long as the employee is not at work)
  • Leaving early
  • Unauthorized breaks
  • Extended breaks (smoke, toilet, lunch, tea, etc.)
  • Feigned illness
  • Other unexplained absences from the work station or from the premises

It is the employee’s duty to commence and end duties at the times required by the employer. When employees do not follow the rules, employers have the right to act. The disciplinary code not only stipulates the rules of the workplace, but also the appropriate sanction. It is vital that these rules are discussed with employees and reduced to writing. The employers can only then prove that employees are aware of the rules as well as the consequences when these rules are broken.


How do you deal with absenteeism?

There are three important steps:

  • Interview the offender and write down what he/she says.
  • The employee has to prove that the absence was justified.
  • Reasons may be produced by the employee, but even if a reason is valid it can still be unacceptable – apply your disciplinary code.

The employee should always notify the employer by any means possible of his/her absence. It is very seldom that there are no means whatsoever available of notifying the employer of the absence.

Note however that even if the employee does notify you that he/she will be absent for the day, such notification does not mean that the absence is now authorized. You have three options depending on the circumstances:

  • Request him/her to come to work
  • Treat the absence as authorized and pay the employee for the period absent
  • Process the absence as unpaid leave

It is important to record and keep record of all incidents, including absenteeism and late coming, in an incident book or an employee file and act according to your disciplinary code. Sanction given must always be fair for the type of misconduct.

Absence after permission has been refused

Sometimes leave cannot be granted due to workload or any other valid and fair reason. When the employee still goes ahead to take the said leave, he/she can be charged with unauthorized absenteeism, insubordination and refusing to obey reasonable and lawful instructions. However, your disciplinary code needs to be followed. For first offenders a final written warning would be a more appropriate sanction.


A deserter is an employee who is absent from work for more than 5 days, without notifying the employer of the reason for the absence. It is extremely important that the employer must be able to prove that the employee has no intention of returning to work. Therefore the employer must attempt to contact the employee and have proof of these attempts – an sms or a letter sent to the employee’s last known address. It is the employee’s duty to notify the employer of a change of address.

After the initial attempts to contact the employee, disciplinary measures can be taken. The employer must send a notice of disciplinary hearing to all last known contact details of the employee. A hearing must be held and may proceed in absentia, after which the employee may then be dismissed.

Contact the LWO Employers Organisation for all labour related issues at 0861 101 828, info@lwo.co.za, or visit www.lwo.co.za.



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