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How to manage absenteeism

This post is also available in: Afrikaans

by Mariëtte Redelinghuys, LWO Employers Organisation 

Absenteeism is a general problem in die agricultural sector. It represents a major influence on business activities and has to be managed efficiently to ensure productivity.

What is the meaning of absenteeism?

Apart from not being present in the workplace, absenteeism also includes:

  • Turning op late for work (when the worker is not present in the workplace, it is still regarded as absenteeism).
  • Leaving early
  • Unauthorised breaks
  • Extended breaks (smoking, ablution, meals, etcetera)
  • Feigned sickness
  • Other unexplained absenteeism from the work station or premises.

It is the responsibility of the employee to deliver services in accordance with the working hours required by the employer. When employees transgress rules, the employer has the right to act against them.

The in-house disciplinary code contains the rules of the workplace and also fitting sanctions. It is of the utmost importance that these rules should be discussed with the employees and also be available in writing. Only then can employers prove that employees know the rules and also what could result should the rules be transgressed.

How should absenteeism be dealt with?

There are three important steps:

  • Discuss the absenteeism with the transgressor in an interview and make notes of what is being said.
  • The employee should be able to prove that the absenteeism was justified.
  • The employee may offer reasons for his/her absenteeism, but even if a reason is valid, it could still be unacceptable – apply the disciplinary code.

The most difficult form of absenteeism to deal with is when an employee does not turn up for work at all. The employee has a responsibility to inform the employer of his/her being absent from work – it is very seldom that there is no manner whatsoever in which the employee cannot let the employer know about his/her absenteeism. Simultaneously there is a responsibility on the employer’s side to inform the employee of his/her absenteeism and the fact that it is without consent.

Take note, however, that when the employer informs the employee of his/her absenteeism, it does not authorise the absenteeism. Depending on circumstances the employer has three options of dealing with the situation: Requesting the employee to attend the workplace; regarding the absenteeism as annual leave and pay the employee for the period of absence; or deal with the absenteeism as unpaid leave.

Absence from work could vary from a less serious transgression to very serious. This is influenced by the employee’s type of work and responsibilities, the (possible) result of the transgression, as well as the impact of the transgression on the relationship of trust between employer and employee.

When an employee repeatedly transgress the same rule, and the employer applies progressive discipline, the employer may issue a more serious warning should the previous warning still be applicable, or continue with a disciplinary hearing which may result in the employee being dismissed. It is imperative that all disciplinary records and records of discussions with the employee should be kept in the personnel file; this may be introduced as aggravating circumstances if required.


When an employee has been absent from work for longer than five days without having informed the employer, the employee is regarded as having absconded. It is important that the employer should be able to prove that the employee had no intention of returning to work. For that reason the employer should try make contact with the employee and be able to provide proof of his/her endeavours to establish such contact, such as a text message or letter sent to the last known address of the employee. These steps are sufficient (it is the duty of the employee to keep the employer informed of his/her latest contact particulars).

After the initial endeavours of the employer to contact the employee, the employer may take disciplinary steps by sending a notice of a disciplinary hearing to all previously known contact addresses of the employee. A disciplinary hearing can then be held and take place in the absence of the employee, which may lead to his/her dismissal.





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