Things tend to quieten off for HR during the summer holidays. With fewer employees in the workplace, there are fewer employee relations issues to deal with…or are there?
There are a number of tricky holiday-related issues that frequently cause headaches for employers.
Suspicious sickness absence
Given the volume of holiday requests made during the summer, employers cannot always agree to employees’ preferred dates. On occasion, employees may take sickness absence on days for which they have made holiday requests which have been denied. This may be genuine sickness, or not.
Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, often leaving you, as an employer, with little recourse. If you suspect that an absence isn’t genuine, you should take steps to evidence that, for example, the employee has been on holiday or had a day out that is inconsistent with the reason for sickness and/or seeing whether there is a repeat pattern of sickness absence on days upon which holiday has been denied.
Failure to return
Employees occasionally fail to return following a period of holiday. This may be due to a confusion over the dates taken, an inability to return due to problems with travel, or simply because the employee doesn’t want to return.
You should contact the employee to find out the reason for the failure to return. If it is due to a confusion over the dates taken, there may well be evidence to support this.
There may also be evidence to support delayed travel arrangements, and it’s likely that the employee will have attempted to make contact. If you believe that the employee has simply not returned, they will be deemed to be ‘AWOL’ (absent without leave).
An employee is AWOL when they fail to attend work and haven’t contacted you with a valid reason. In the first instance, it’s advisable to attempt to contact the employee. If this isn’t possible and there are concerns in relation to their whereabouts, it’s sensible to contact their next of kin. Once you have spoken to them, the reason given will dictate your next steps.
You may wish to discipline or dismiss an employee under these circumstances.
Once you have made contact, you should carry out a reasonable investigation to attempt to determine the facts of the situation. If your investigation finds misconduct, the steps that you can take fairly will depend upon a number of factors including whether:
- the alleged actions amount to misconduct or gross misconduct;
- their length of service;
- you have a contractual disciplinary procedure;
- the employee has any protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 which are relevant to the situation; and
- there are any other factors present which might impact upon the employer’s ability to fairly discipline or dismiss the employee.
It’s therefore prudent to get legal advice before you take any formal disciplinary action to risk assess your desired resolution.
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