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Myths of the workplace: Absent employees can't be disciplined

Disciplinary matters are best resolved quickly - and in many cases, all that's needed is a quiet word. But when the issue is more serious and a disciplinary meeting is scheduled, what can be done if an employee is repeatedly unable or unwilling to attend?

It's a myth that employees can't be disciplined if they're off sick or don't show. Their absence may be because of a genuine illness or perhaps a plain refusal to face up to the issue. Either way, the wheels of disciplinary justice don't grind to a halt if the employee isn't there. But employers will need to consider the facts carefully and come to a reasonable decision on how to proceed - remembering that disciplinary procedures, even in the absence of the employee, still need to conform to the pdf icon Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance [167kb].

Employers' considerations may include the rules and procedures of their organisation for failures to attend, and how such cases have been dealt with in the past. The employee's previous disciplinary record, work record, position and length of service could all be taken into account too, along with the seriousness of the disciplinary issue itself.

If the employee is claiming to be sick, medical opinion is useful to confirm whether he or she is fit to attend the meeting. Sometimes the stress of the situation itself may be behind the absence, in which case, it's in everyone's interest to get a resolution speedily. Some employers offer to hold the meeting closer to or at the employee's home, or accept a written representation.

But in the continuing absence of an employee, employers may conclude that a decision will be made on all the evidence available. They should let the employee know if this is the case.

Acas has many years of experience and expertise in helping organisations work through Discipline issues, and provides practical training on handling Discipline and grievance in the workplace. Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

If you're dealing with a discipline issue and could benefit from free expert advice on how to reach a resolution, visit Helpline Online.

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