Job Abandonment: All HR Needs to Know

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Job Abandonment: All HR Needs to Know

Job abandonment can have a negative impact on your organization. When someone fails to show up at work, it causes schedules and productivity disruptions and others must fill the void and repeat the recruitment process. This article gives an overview of the issue, why it may happen, ways to prevent it, and how to create a job abandonment policy.

What is job abandonment?
Signs of job abandonment
Common reasons for job abandonment
Best practices for preventing job abandonment
5 key aspects of a job abandonment policy

What is job abandonment?

The definition of job abandonment is when an employee fails to come to work for a specific number of days without notifying their employer or indicating their return date. This is generally considered a voluntary resignation, even though the employee has not formally stated their intention to quit.

Although job abandonment and absenteeism are both unplanned time off from scheduled work, they are not the same thing. Absenteeism is when employees miss work but do come back. Job abandonment situations involve employees who have no intention of returning to work.

While there are no specific job abandonment laws, there are legal issues to consider. If an employment contract exists with the employee, you will need to address this. If the absence involves medical reasons, there may also be FMLA or ADA concerns.

All work absences cost time and money because they interfere with meeting business goals. Managers have to spend time adjusting and distributing the workload. Reduced morale may occur among those who must cover for the missing employee. This disruption is further complicated in job abandonment situations because uncertainty exists about the employee’s return and resources must be invested in recruiting a replacement.

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Signs of job abandonment

Every situation is different, but there may be some indications that an employee has abandoned their position, including:

  • Employee is a no-show without explanation for several consecutive days.
  • Employee will not respond to phone calls, emails, or any other forms of communication.
  • Employee has removed personal belongings from their desk or workspace.

Job abandonment isn’t always a clear-cut issue, so there must be a keen awareness of what constitutes job abandonment within your organization.

Common reasons for job abandonment

Job abandonment can occur in any type of organization and for a variety of reasons. It is often attributable to an employee who lacks mature communication skills and feels no commitment or loyalty to their employer. Sometimes people work one or two shifts and don’t come back. Other instances involve employees not returning after a paid leave has been exhausted. 

Some of the most common explanations for why people ghost their employers include the following:

  • They find a preferable employment opportunity and fail to communicate their decision.
  • They dislike or can’t perform the job and want a quick way out. 
  • They are uncomfortable about or embarrassed to discuss their reason for leaving. 
  • They do not understand their options under the medical/personal/family leave policies.

There are occasions when employees have overwhelming crises that preclude them from contacting their employer. For example, the reason can be a medical or family emergency or a natural disaster. These circumstances require careful scrutiny on a case-by-case basis before categorizing them as job abandonment. 

Best practices for preventing job abandonment

You may not be able to eliminate job abandonment in your workplace completely, but there are steps you can take to prevent it from becoming prevalent. The point is to identify and rectify the underlying issues that may contribute to low employee engagement. Unreasonable demands or a toxic work environment can cause employees to detach and feel more inclined to jump ship without notice. 

Use the following practices to explore how your organization can avoid situations that may trigger employees to leave you stranded:

Conduct surveys

Give employees a way to voice their concerns and provide feedback about the organization and their work environment. When you address their concerns and act on their suggestions, employees will feel valued and respect the company. Ensure your employees that their feedback is anonymous so that they are comfortable being honest about workplace issues.

Promote awareness of attendance policies

You must educate all employees about your attendance policies during onboarding. Provide them in writing and review them verbally with new hires. Go over specific scenarios so they understand the different types of absences and the protocol for how to request or report time off with their supervisors. Be sure they understand their rights under FMLA and know how to access the information and necessary paperwork the company provides.

Address performance issues promptly

Employees who are struggling in their positions need to be reminded of expectations and offered support as soon as the deficiency is noticed. Managers should implement a specific plan for how the employee can improve their performance. Resolving these issues quickly will eliminate the employee’s, manager’s, and co-workers’ frustration and tension.

Job Abandonment Prevention

Review your vacation and leave-of-absence policies

Companies with competitive paid time off policies provide their employees with breaks to take care of their health, handle personal business, and refresh themselves. This can prevent burn-out and motivate them to stay with the company. Even unpaid leave provides a sense of security for employees who may need additional time away.

Regularly review your policies and see where you can make improvements. This is especially worth looking into throughout the ongoing pandemic when many workers have had to stay at home or care for a family member due to COVID-19.

Motivate employees to give proper notice

Although giving two weeks’ notice is the courteous way to resign, people may not see how it benefits them. Encouraging employees to give adequate notice can make them think twice about leaving without warning. You can do this by offering incentives, such as eligibility for rehiring or payment for unused vacation or sick days.

In European countries, where it is common to specify the notice period in the employment contract, make it clear that you’re open to discussing other possibilities of ending the employment.

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Celebrate departing employees

When employees who resign are sent off with good wishes, it builds morale. A goodbye party or an email announcement to acknowledge the departing employee conveys that the company cares about its team members as individuals and values their professional success.

It also demonstrates that leaving the organization is not a reason to be scorned, so employees don’t need to feel intimidated about resigning. Treating those who leave with respect contributes to a positive work atmosphere and deters employees from abandoning their jobs.

5 key aspects of a job abandonment policy

A formal job abandonment policy makes handling these circumstances simpler and more consistent. If managers have steps to follow when an employee is a no-show, they can immediately address the problem. It removes the doubt and guessing about how to proceed in these situations and reduces the time wasted holding a position for a truant employee. 

The policy should be included in your employee handbook and contain these five features:

1. A clear definition of job abandonment

Employees need to understand what your organization considers job abandonment. You must define how many days of absence without providing the mandatory notice will be deemed as job abandonment. The standard is typically three consecutive days or missed shifts, but employers can choose what best suits their organization. 

The policy should also list “several different scenarios that would constitute job abandonment”. These can be the common examples of not showing up for scheduled shifts, not returning after being on leave, or not filing short-term disability or FMLA paperwork. 

There should also be a clarification that job abandonment is considered a voluntary resignation, which means that the employee is terminated and might not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

2. An investigation process

Employers are responsible for demonstrating that they took appropriate measures to investigate the situation and made sure that the employee had no intention of returning to their position. You must try to ascertain why the individual has missed work and if they are open to communicating with you.  

A company representative needs to reach out to the individual following the designated process in your job abandonment policy. You should define the acceptable methods of contact (phone calls, email, texts) and how many attempts to make within a specified number of business days.

Here is an example of a job abandonment investigation process:  

  • First attempt at contact – Using all of your standard methods of contact with employees, try to find out why they have missed their shift(s) and if/when they will be returning. 
  • Second attempt – Wait 24 hours and contact the person again using all available means of communication. 
  • Third attempt – Try to reach the person they have listed as their emergency contact to see if they have any relevant information. Make another effort to contact the employee directly.
  • Send a registered letter – This correspondence should detail the dates they missed work and your previous communication attempts. It should state that if they don’t respond within one week of receiving the letter, the company will consider it job abandonment. 
  • Final contact by registered letter – If there is still no response, declare their termination of employment in writing. You should have a job abandonment letter template on file that outlines why the termination is taking place and the effective date. It should also include who to contact if they have questions. (Two job abandonment termination letter examples to consider can be found here and here.)

3. Compliance with established termination procedures

Once you conclude that the job abandonment was indeed a voluntary work separation or termination, follow the standard termination process your organization has in place. This includes paying out all the compensation the former employee is due and offering transition to COBRA for health benefits, if applicable.

Types of Voluntary Work Separations
Job abandonment is generally considered a type of voluntary work separation.

4. Thorough documentation

A written policy that explains that job abandonment is grounds for automatic termination is the first way to protect employers. Still, you must document every step in the process in the employee’s file. Supervisors and HR representatives should make detailed notes of each absence and every attempt to contact the employee. If a former employee fired for job abandonment decides to take legal action, detailed records kept throughout the incident can work in the employer’s favor. 

5. Consistency in applying the policy

Enforce the job abandonment policy consistently throughout your workforce and follow it exactly as written. Anytime an employee is a no-show for the specified number of days, implement the policy and start an investigation.

Applying the policy uniformly gives the perception of fairness and discourages the assumption that you take unexcused absences lightly.

The bottom line

Job abandonment issues are not easy to deal with, but having a clear policy with follow-through can spare you some difficulties, including unlawful termination lawsuits. However, avoiding job abandonment with preventative measures is just as important.

Instituting fair policies and cultivating employee engagement will promote a collaborative workplace culture and inclusive environment. This goes a long way toward fending off the taxing disruption caused by job abandonment.

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