The Vanishing Act: Understanding Absconding in the Workplace

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Management

It is fast approaching ‘’silly season’’ many of you will be left in the dark regarding the whereabouts of some of your employees that have failed to return to work. You would wonder  did the employee find another job or is the employee absent as a result of illness or other circumstances?

To put it in perspective, the word ‘abscond’ is defined in the Oxford dictionary as leaving hurriedly and secretly. It can therefore be said that absconding means that one does not have the intention to return to work.

The reality is that you will not know and can therefore not assume that the employee has no intention to return to work. In such circumstances the onus rests on the employer to establish whether the employee will return to work or not before termination of employment may be considered.

So how does one establish whether the employee intends to return to work?


  1. You must call the employee on his cell phone. It is surprising that many employers fail to do this and skip straight to sending a letter  by courier. Note the date and time of the call and when messages were left.
  2. Enquire with friends at work and family members. Note their comments.
  3. Ensure that an obligation is placed on your employees to inform the company of any changes to their residential and/or postal addresses. Employees must understand the consequences of not updating such information.   
  4. Send a letter to the employee instructing them to report for duty.  Send this by courier to the last known address of the employee.
  5. You do not have to pay the employee if the employee failed to report for duty without permission or justification. Employees are quick to make contact when they are not paid on the normal payday.

What to do if the employee fails to report for duty on the stipulated dated?


You will have to follow-up the first letter with a notification to attend a disciplinary enquiry. An important point to remember is to remind the employee of the consequences of non-attendance. If the employee does not attend the hearing it will commence in absentia. If the employee appears at the enquiry, he will have to justify his absence from work.


If the employee is dismissed in absentia, a third letter will have to be served on the employee confirming the dismissal. 

PRO TIP:  take this week and make sure that all the employees details you have on record is still accurate.

It may prove to be a costly decision if you opt to rush to make the most of such a window of “opportunity” to get rid of a troublesome employee. The employer will be required to carefully evaluate the dismissal of the employee and must be able to prove that all necessary steps were taken before dismissal.