Abandonment of employment

If an employee is absent from work for an extended period without explanation, they may be considered to have abandoned their employment.

When an employee abandons their job

Abandonment occurs when an employee leaves their job with no intention of returning.

Some have a clause which states that employment may be terminated after a specific number of days of unexplained absence (the number of days will be specified in employment agreement).

It’s good practice for all employment agreements to contain a clause on abandonment.

Employment agreement builder – business.govt.nz (external link)

How an employer should respond

An employer cannot assume that an employee has abandoned their job if they miss work for a few days without advising them. The employee may have a reasonable explanation for their absence. They may have taken unauthorised leave but intend to return to work, which should be handled by the employer in the same way as any other suspected misconduct.

When an employee has not turned up for work, an employer should not rush into starting the process to end the employment relationship. They should try to contact the employee and clarify whether they plan to come back to work. This means:

  • calling all contact numbers several times and leaving messages to call back
  • sending a letter or email telling them that the employer is considering ending their employment.

If the employee has a good reason for their absence and intends to return to work, the employer cannot rely on abandonment to dismiss them. Before an employer decides whether the employee has abandoned their job, it’s important that they:

  • listen to the employee with an open mind, and
  • consider any other information, such as medical certificates, or conversations with family members of the employee.

Bringing the relationship to an end

If the employee cannot be contacted after several days, the employer should advise the employee by phone or email and in writing to their last known address that their employment is at risk. Make it clear that unless they make contact by a certain time, their employment will be regarded as having ended, due to abandonment.

Refer to the relevant clause from their employment agreement, if there is one.

If there’s still no response, advise the employee by phone or email and in writing that, in accordance with previous communications, their employment is terminated by reason of abandonment.

It’s important for the employer to keep a record of all attempted contact and communications, in case there is any future dispute.

If an employer is going to end an employment relationship, they must have a good reason and act fairly and reasonably.

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