What Is Job Abandonment?

What Happens If an Employee Doesn't Show up for Work?

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019 

Job abandonment occurs when an employee fails to show up as expected at work on consecutive days without notifying their supervisor or requesting the time off. This occurs when the organization's policy states that the prolonged absence is considered a resignation.

What exactly constitutes job abandonment varies by organization but is most frequently three consecutive work days. If you're an employee, you are advised to check your organization's policy in your employee handbook instead of making assumptions about what you can get away with—and still have a job.

For abandonment, the employee's failure to show up for work also includes a failure to communicate with his or her manager or supervisor about a reason for missing work. The employee also didn’t request time off or to use his or her paid or unpaid leave. The employee just didn't come to work. In the Human Resources industry jargon, an employee who abandons their job without calling or asking for time off in advance is a "no call, no show" employee.

Why People Abandon Their Jobs

In organizations, job abandonment occurs for as many reasons as there are people who are abandoning their jobs. The most common reasons include:

  • the employee was too embarrassed and afraid to quit in person;
  • the employee was offered more hours at their second job abandonment, just a trusted person's mistake; and
  • the employee had an unexpected family emergency and the person they counted on to call the company simply forgot—in a case like this, the employer would typically reinstate the employee as the apparent abandonment was not.

When an employee fails to show up for work, the first step is for the supervisor or manager to try to reach the employee via their landline phone, smartphone, email, text, or by whatever means they are used to communicating with the particular employee.

Sometimes, a rational reason for the absence is obtained; in some instances, the employer sadly discovers that the employee is missing work due to sudden death or illness. Sometimes an employee just did not understand all of their options when they needed to miss work.

Preventing Job Abandonment

Human resources (HR) needs to offer the Family and Medical Leave Act information just in case the problem is an illness. Additionally, HR staff also needs to offer the options of a short-term leave of absence and short-term disability insurance information so that the employee understands all of the options available in case of a medical condition.

Employee Handbook

Employers are advised to clearly spell out a policy in their employee handbooks that states the number of days missed before the absence is considered a resignation by job abandonment. Since this is not covered by most state laws—although some practices surrounding the interpretation of job abandonment do exist in different states—the clear policy is in the best interest of employers.

You can avoid legal difficulties later on by having, implementing, and enforcing a fair policy that gives reasonable notice to the employee of the impending termination.

You will also want your policy to spell out several scenarios that you would consider job abandonment. For example, you can consider a person on an unpaid or paid leave who fails to return to work for three days following the end date of the leave to have abandoned their job.

In a second example, you can consider an employee who has been absent for three days without filing short term disability or FMLA paperwork to have abandoned his or her job.

In a third example, an hourly employee fails to clock in at the job site for three straight days without calling the supervisor or requesting the time off in advance, for whatever reason. (In these cases, employers are advised to exercise consistent and fair judgment when they are informed of the employee's reason.)

Notifying the Employee

When an employee fails to show up or notify the manager or supervisor of the reasons for the absences, you are advised to send the employee a registered letter that requires a signature upon delivery.

The letter needs to state that you will terminate employment five business days following the employee’s receipt of the letter if you do not hear from him or her with a reasonable and acceptable explanation for the absences.

But, if the employee won't communicate or respond, as is often the case in job abandonment situations, you need to follow your company's policy. Otherwise, you are setting a precedent for cases in the future. Consistently following your published policies is recommended no matter who the employee is and no matter what position they hold.

Unemployment Compensation

Employers need to designate the termination "voluntary quitting" to prevent the employee from collecting unemployment compensation. That's because an employee who voluntarily quits his or her job may only collect unemployment benefits if the quit was due to a good cause, as determined by the unemployment office. Good causes are frequently contested by employers in a voluntary quit and in discharge through job abandonment.

What Is the Bottom Line for the Employer About Job Abandonment?

  • Try to reach the employee to provide options and to discuss what is going on
  • Provide all medical paperwork for an FMLA application, short-term disability, and so forth
  • Offer a short-term unpaid leave if you wish. (Recognize that you are setting a precedent that may affect your ability to deal with job abandonment in the future)
  • Notify the employee of the actions you will take regarding termination and provide five business days for a response
  • Send each of these items through a method that requires a signature on the receiving end to ensure that the employee received the letter