Why AWOL should be addressed immediately by employers

Labor Law 4 min read , November 14, 2020

When an employee goes AWOL or abandons their post, some employers choose to ignore it. They think, "Good riddance. I will just withhold the last pay and move on." But is this a good practice? Are there any risks involved with turning a blind eye? We tackle this in today's article.

There is a tendency to think that once the AWOL employee is out of sight, then you're done with that episode and you can move on. If they don't want to work for you, then that's fine. You don't want them in your space as well so "quits na".

From an operational standpoint, that makes sense. But my purpose in this article is to lend you our "legal lens" and help you see some aspects that legal practitioners see in plain view. There are 3 things that you may not be seeing.

Shot made while filming for yesHEis project
Photographer: Nik Shuliahin | Source: Unsplash

AWOL creates legal exposure

What is the employment status of an employee who abandons their post? Here's the thing... you may imagine that since they are not in the workplace, they are automatically terminated. But it doesn't work that way. The law has specific requirements before you can consider an employee terminated. Namely, you have to undergo due process.

Ignoring an employee just because "they ignored you" hardly qualifies as "due process" the way that the labor code intended it. You have to give proper notice that you are holding the employee accountable, give them a chance to defend themselves, and release a formal decision on the matter. Take note that these things have to be documented.

Technically, the employment status of these employees may still be argued as employed because the employer never made the formal pronouncement of ending their employment. Now let me pose a nightmare scenario for you... what do you do if they come back and start demanding that they go back to work? What paperwork do you present to say that they no longer have a job to go back to?

The way I see it, AWOL employees are holes in your ship. You better plug them up before coasting off into the sunset. Don't let these holes slow your ship down!

Photographer: Ben White | Source: Unsplash

Sets a bad precedent

Next problem that ignoring AWOL employees pose is from a disciplinary standpoint. As I say in all my workshops, the way you handle disciplinary cases sends a message to the rest of your team. You tell them what is acceptable and unacceptable with the way you deal with different kinds of offenses.

Take AWOL for example. If employees see that you handle it lightly (or not at all), remaining team members might not think twice about doing the same since there doesn't seem to be any consequence to doing so. They won't respect the 30-day turnover process required by the labor code when you leave an employer and they will just leave you.

Remember, the proper way for employees to leave is to submit a resignation letter. Afterward, they are supposed to stay another 30 days to give you the chance to have them turn over any pending work and clear liabilities. More importantly, the 30 days allows you to train or hire a replacement, thereby keeping the business running smoothly without any interruptions.

If you take AWOL lightly and employees see that there are no negative repercussions, what's to stop them from disregarding the turnover period and just abandoning you?

You need to move on operationally

Finally, you need to consider that the safest way to move on is to close the AWOL employee's chapter with your company, so you can open a new one with a new employee. If the paperwork officially terminated the previous employee properly, then there wouldn't be any risk if you open up the position to a new employee.

The situation we want to avoid is after hiring the new employee, you have the AWOL employee coming back and fighting for their job. And since you didn't close off the issue with a proper termination process, you barely have evidence to justify why the old employee doesn't have any position to go back to.

Photographer: Jonas Jacobsson | Source: Unsplash

To Recap

So, what have we learned today:

  • AWOL has more consequences than you realize. These should all be addressed.
  • You want to avoid legal exposure.
  • You want to discipline the rest of your team by showing them you don't tolerate AWOL and abandonment.
  • You want to close the chapter officially so you can hire replacements with a clean slate.

That's it! I hope this article helped you understand how important it is to handle AWOL cases properly.

Update: I am giving away a free mini-course on handling AWOL. You can download it by clicking here!