Absenteeism in the workplace: Employers must proactively manage employee absenteeism

BY JADE GROENEWALD, LABOURNET - NOVEMBER 23, 2016

We are approaching that time of the year, when non-attendance and absenteeism from the workplace increases drastically. Employers not only have the right, but a duty to proactively manage absenteeism. The performance of any organisation is dependent on the productivity of the workforce, and attendance to the workplace.

The basis of the rights and obligations between the parties - employer and employee, stems from the employment contract, which was entered into. Failure of an employee to report for duty and render service is a material breach of contract.

The very basis of the employment contract (whether written or not) is that the employee has to;

•    Report for duty,

•    Render services for the totality of the working shift.

Absenteeism from the workplace is governed by the employment contract, company rules and regulations, common law and statutes.

The employment contract and common law binds an employee to reporting for duty and rendering services. Rules and regulations with regard to absenteeism will also be binding, provided that they are reasonable and operationally justifiable.

Importantly, legislation, and specifically The Basic Conditions of Employment Act entitles an employee to be absent from work in certain circumstances, and these statutes will take precedence.

Though an employee is entitled to be absent due to illness and/or family responsibilities, the duty will remain on the employee concerned to provide valid documentary proof, like a medical or death certificate within the parameters of the legislation and/or rules of the company.

In SABC v CCMA and Others, the Labour Appeal Court held that it is the duty of the employee to report for work and remain at work. The absence of the employee from work is only permissible within the specific parameters of The Basic Conditions of Employment Act or with permission of the employer; any other absence is misconduct (breach of a workplace rule).

It is vitally important for employers to have a proper disciplinary code or policy in place that determines the issue, and stipulates what period of absence would be considered to be material so as to justify dismissal, or alternatively progressive discipline. The onus of proof will be on the employee to prove that he was absent due to valid reasons, failing which disciplinary steps can be taken which may lead to summary dismissal.

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