Staffing Management

Job Abandonment: What is it, How it Happens & How to Handle it

By Akshay Sachdeva, Gustav Anderson

May. 16, 2022


  • Job abandonment is when an employee doesn’t show up to their job for a specified number of days without notice and any intention to return.
  • Handling job abandonment involves defining it clearly, investigating the causes thoroughly, providing coverage, complying with labor laws, and staying consistent.  
  • It’s possible to prevent by making job abandonment policies more visible, having a generous leave policy, practicing flexible scheduling, and communicating properly. 

Imagine a scenario where your most valuable staff member is a no-call, no-show one day – and then the next day, and the day after, and even the day after that.

A week goes by and it’s quite clear – they have abandoned their job.

You may have limited ability to run your business, be unable to serve customers properly, have severe scheduling issues, and be left with team members with reduced morale.

With trends like the “Great Resignation” showing up globally, scheduling managers should anticipate that unexcused absenteeism, and in extreme cases, job abandonment, are inevitable and that policies need to be established to help prevent these issues from happening or to minimize their damage.

What is job abandonment and why does it happen?

Job abandonment is when an employee abandons their company abruptly by not showing up to work for a predetermined number of days (a quantity determined by the employer) without notification. This is considered a “voluntary resignation,” even though the employee may not have formally quit their job. By failing to communicate, it’s assumed that the employee has no intention of returning to work.

For example, an employee may not show up for work for many business days consecutively without reasonable explanation, might stop responding to calls and emails, or may have removed their personal belongings from their work station. Or an employee who is on unpaid/paid leave doesn’t show up for three consecutive days after the leave ends.

There are several reasons why job abandonment occurs:

  • Fear of quitting the job in person due to embarrassment
  • Getting a job with another employer
  • An unexpected personal or family member emergency
  • Dissatisfaction with the job due to a lack of recognition or poor company culture
  • Fear of returning to work due to health/hygiene concerns (as in the pandemic)
  • A careless or negligent attitude by the employee

In other instances, an employee may have genuine reasons for not notifying their employer. For example, they might have a medical emergency or may have lost access to their phone and the internet if they’re away on leave. Such situations require careful consideration before being classified as job abandonment.

How to handle job abandonment

Employers must minimize the negative consequences of job abandonment to their business by having a job abandonment policy in place. They should anticipate the problems it can create, like scheduling issues, and take steps to mitigate the effects of job abandonment, both before and after it happens. Here’s how you can handle job abandonment:

Define job abandonment clearly

Create and communicate a company policy dictating how many no-call, no-show days qualify as job abandonment. There’s no federal law that defines job abandonment clearly, so it’s your responsibility to provide clarity to your employees on what counts as job abandonment. Remind employees of the consequences of abandonment and let them know that job abandonment deprives them of unemployment benefits as it’s considered a voluntary resignation.

Follow a thorough investigation and termination procedure

There should be an investigation process in place for every job abandonment, as employers are responsible for ensuring the employee had no intention of returning. Upon thoroughly investigating and recording, employers should follow a detailed termination process in order to mitigate liability as much as possible. To do this, some steps you can follow include:

  1. Attempt to contact the employee via phone calls and email to find out why they missed their shift. Try to figure out if they intend to return to work by communicating with them.
  2. If the first attempt is unsuccessful, make a second and third attempt after waiting for 24 hours or try to get in touch with the employee’s emergency contact. After this, make as many attempts as necessary to contact the employee up until they have been absent for the minimum number of days constituting job abandonment as defined by your company policy.
  3. Ensure you accurately record every attempt at communication with the absent employee. You may need a reliable paper trail to fall back on in case of legal action.
  4. If all attempts for communication fail, send a letter to your employee’s address mentioning your attempts to contact them, along with the employee’s missed dates of work. Include a notice that if the employee doesn’t respond to the letter within a week, their absence will be considered job abandonment.
  5. If the employee still doesn’t respond, terminate the employment through a job abandonment letter, mentioning the reason behind the termination, their date and times absent, company property to return, and a contact in case the employee has any questions regarding their termination. Use this termination letter template from SHRM as a guide.
  6. Upon notifying an employee of their termination of employment for job abandonment, make sure to double-check payroll to ensure the terminated employee will receive all that they are owed on their final paycheck.

Use your scheduling management software to ensure that abandoned shifts are covered. Allow employees to communicate freely with scheduling managers so they can pick up abandoned shifts. Allow shift swapping and cross-train employees to be able to fill in for staff members who’ve abandoned their jobs.

It would be sensible to learn from past experiences of job abandonment and plan schedules as far out into the future as possible. Have a network of “on-call” employees to count on in case of job abandonments, so you’re never faced with a staffing crisis.

Remain compliant with employment laws

You must always take steps to confirm that the job abandonment was indeed a voluntary resignation to avoid potential legal action. Dismissing an employee due to medical reasons can be tricky and could be scrutinized. For this reason, the job abandonment policy should address short-term disability and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Clarify that if a staff member does not come to work for three successive days and does not file their short-term disability paperwork or request a leave of absence on the grounds of a family emergency, they will have abandoned their job.

A recent California appellate court decision in the Bareno Case reaffirms the sensitivity of dismissals when medical reasons are involved. This case involved an employee who had notified her employers that she wouldn’t be able to attend work due to medical reasons. The employer said that they didn’t receive one email and terminated the employee on the grounds of an “unexplained absence.”

The employee sued for wrongful termination, claiming her employers terminated her for simply taking medical leave. The court’s decision was that the employer should have asked the employee for further details about her leave rather than just waiting for a few days and terminating the employee. Based on this decision, employers are advised that if they believe the employee is absent from work because of medical reasons, they should assume the employee has not resigned.

Employers also need to be mindful that email and spam filters may lead to unread or skipped messages from the employee. To avoid a similar scenario that occurred in the above case, where a message goes missing, employers should consider using a single channel of communication without spam filters to make it easy and simple to communicate with their employees.

Be consistent in applying a job abandonment policy

It’s important that you have a documented job abandonment policy. Record detailed notes of every unexcused absence and every attempt to contact the employee. Include a copy of your job abandonment policy in your employee handbook and human resource portal, so there’s no room for confusion among employees. There should be no surprises when employees are terminated.

How to proactively prevent job abandonment

Job abandonment is not easy to deal with, and one way of avoiding its negative consequences is to prevent it from happening. Having fair policies centered around inclusiveness that keep employees engaged and a good company culture that motivates employees to do their best work can help engage employees and prevent them from abandoning their jobs.

Make your job abandonment policy visible

Including your job abandonment policy in your employee handbook or explaining it in detail when employees are being onboarded is a great way to make employees aware of your leave policies and the consequences of job abandonment. The more aware employees are, the higher the chances of them complying with your policies.

Have a lenient leave and absence policy

More often than not, people abandon their jobs because they’re overworked, frustrated with their job, and simply don’t have enough time off. A lenient leave policy complements a transparent job abandonment policy, allowing employees time to rest.

According to an interview with The Washington Post, Raygun owner Mike Draper said, “It’s tough if you have a family crisis and you need to deal with that and you have an employer that says, ‘If you leave to deal with that, you’re fired.’” His company is lenient with things like absenteeism and paid time off. He said, “We provide an environment where people don’t find themselves in that situation. Work doesn’t have to be intractable.”

Practice flexible scheduling

Allow employees to pick up open shifts or swap shifts with managerial approval, so they’re able to meet their personal, financial, and professional commitments. Enable employees to do these things by equipping them with the right mobile scheduling and communication tools, and try to honor them as much as possible using flexible scheduling policies.

Regularly communicate with employees

Handling job abandonment as well as preventing it from happening requires open and honest communication with employees. Treat communication as a two-way street. On the one hand, provide feedback to employees to keep them engaged, and on the other, give employees the freedom to voice their concerns. This is a two-pronged approach that will help keep your employees engaged while making you aware of any glaring issues, so you can take preventative measures to curb job abandonment.

Equip your workforce to better handle job abandonment

It is one thing to map out and plan how your business will handle job abandonment – it’s another to actually go out and execute that plan. Both managers and employees alike need the right tools to efficiently work together to prevent and overcome job abandonment in the workplace. With the right workforce management software, this is very achievable. Contact us today to learn more about how to better handle job abandonment on the front lines using cloud-based scheduling and time tracking software.

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