When an employee walks off the job, does that mean they’ve resigned or do you have to keep their job open for them?

It’s Thursday morning and one of your employees hasn’t turned up for work. Again. In fact, you haven’t heard from them since last Friday when they left for the day. Have they left the company? Can you fire them for not turning up?

It’s a common scenario that leaves many employers scratching their heads, wondering at what point after someone stops coming to work can you consider them to have silently resigned, and what you can do about it.

“Abandonment of employment occurs where an employee is absent from work without an excuse for a period of time” explains Fiona Corbett, National Manager Workplace Advice.

If you do find yourself in this situation as an employer, you’re required to make “reasonable investigations”.

“This might include attempting to contact the employee by telephone, email, letter or via emergency contacts,” adds Corbett.

“They may have a valid reason for their absence and you need to have taken a number of steps to track down the employee before concluding they have abandoned their employment.”

Absent minded behaviour

How long an employee has been absent before they’re considered to have abandoned their employment depends upon the modern award, enterprise agreement or contract they are employed under.

However, it is generally recommended you wait at least seven days (and have made numerous attempts to contact them) before concluding they are ending their employment.

If it turns out that have a valid reason for missing work, you may need to reinstate them, or risk an unfair dismissal claim.

In the heat of the moment

“Another thing that happens is that employees have a difficult conversation with their employer, and then just say ‘I’m out of here’ and walk out,” says Corbett. “We call that a heat of the moment resignation.

If they make it clear they are resigning, the employee may still be able to retract the resignation a short time after it is made. However, if they don’t retract it after an initial short period, then you can treat it as a resignation.

Issue a formal warning

If they do stay on, Corbett says you need to address the problem head on, find out what the issue is, and in most cases, issue a formal written warning.

“You can’t just have people flying off the handle and walking out, leaving the workplace short,” she says. “If it’s happened on a number of occasions then it’s probably time to consider terminating them.”

For more information on your workplace obligations contact the Workplace Advice line on 13 29 59.