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If an employee just goes AWOL, i.e. he/she just stops showing up for work, and does not respond to phone calls or emails, is there a general protocol the employer must follow?

I imagine for the first few days they would try to get in touch and see if the employee is sick/injured/dead/etc. But what happens after that?

How long before they can fire the employee, or dock his pay, or remove him from the employee records? If he disappears mid-month can they not pay his salary? (or only pay him half?)

(Personally I'm in the UK, but generally interested in what happens in other countries as well.)

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    You may want to post this on the law SE instead. Not that it’s off-topic here (at least I think it isn’t), but you will probably get better answers there. – Belle Apr 22 '18 at 10:12
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    I don't know whether this is legal or not, but at least one employee handbook I've seen stated that an employee is deemed to have resigned if they neither work a scheduled work day nor call in to explain their absence. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 22 '18 at 12:57
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    @PatriciaShanahan ... it depends on local law. I worked in a country that was very protective of employee rigths, and they have either to miss some days in a raw (5?) or 8 otherwise, cant remember the exact numbers. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 22 '18 at 13:36
  • @PatriciaShanahan even if they are in a hospital, unconscious for days? – Juha Untinen Apr 22 '18 at 15:51
  • I worked at an employer in the US that considered more than 3 days absence without notification as "abandonment". In essence it's the same as resigning without notice. – Hilmar Apr 22 '18 at 17:07
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Depends greatly on the company and their policies

Note that it is best to ask ones own company to get details on the steps that they will take, since it will vary by company. With that said here are some examples of things one could expect.

Stop Pay

For hourly employees if he does not show up he does not get paid (exceptions do apply). So if he stopped showing up then they will stop paying him. For salary it gets more complicated, but the most likely outcome would be failure to show up for work puts him in breach of his employment contract, and would be used as grounds to fire him. So his pay in that situation would stop when they officially fire him.

If he is fired during the middle of a pay period he would still be entitled to whatever he worked up to that point. If the pay check was normally given in person, then it would be mailed to his last known address.

Police Welfare Check

The company can ask the local police to do a welfare check on him. At this point the police will go to the guy's residence and try to contact him and if they get no response they will enter the premise and check the residence for anyone unconscious or otherwise unable to respond.

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  • Thanks, good answer. One question though: Most large companies will have a payroll cut-off date, after which it is difficult/impossible to change salary. Say if the cut-off date is the 15th, and employee disappears on the 20th, can they still go back and reduce the month's payment? – CaptainCodeman Apr 22 '18 at 11:15
  • Difficult, but never impossible. All companies must have a way to correct mistakes and typos for previous periods. The pay check for the first work period typically gets paid out during the second pay period and so on. As such regardless of when the cut-off date falls, it should fall before the check is actually paid, and the company has between those two dates to catch it and fix it. Otherwise they might have to write it off. Again though this depends highly on the company and your company likely has its own process for dealing with these rare situations. – Anketam Apr 22 '18 at 12:23
  • @CaptainCodeman The UK uses monthly for salaried and the company would have to go though the formal dismissal process to make it a fair dismissal a month or so is not really worth bothering about – Neuromancer Apr 22 '18 at 18:37
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This actually happened with someone I 'worked' with some years ago. He started a couple of years after me, at about the same time as I changed teams. Very soon after, we got scheduled together on the same training course at the company's HQ in the USA. After a few days, it became apparent to me he was struggling with the course content; and then he stopped attending altogether. He didn't show up once I was back in the UK, either. After a few days, my boss came to me and asked if I had seen him. I related the story about him struggling with the course and then disappearing. Apparently, HR then contacted his mum (next of kin) and was told he had gone to India to 'find himself'! He had also stolen the laptop and corporate credit card he was issued, and used the credit card to buy his plane ticket to India.

The company declared him to have resigned, and pursued legal measures to recover the cost of the laptop, plane tickets to the USA, everything he had spent on the credit card, etc. Between establishing that he had deserted the company, and declaring that he had resigned, was very quick - just a day or two IIRC.

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With every job I have held thus far (in the USA), the 'offer' (as opposed to contract) of employment has always contained a voluntary quit clause/section. Invariably, it states that if the employee is absent for 3 days with no contact, they are assumed to have voluntarily quit (this is to remove the possibility of claiming severance/unemployment insurance otherwise claimable under dismissal). I imagine it differs from region to region, but in my particularly small corner of the world, this is how businesses seem to handle this situation.

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When the company sets their policy (which will sometimes only happen once they encounter the situation you describe), they will consult an employment lawyer. The actions they can take are dictated not only by morals and ethics, but also by local law.

It's also highly relevant if the company is generally interested in retaining the employee or not. Another important concern is known or suspected medical causes, such as depression, which will sometimes affect the legal situation.

In many cases they would also notify relatives, or the police, on the same day the employee goes missing to check the employee's home - again, they'll check with an employment lawyer first, regarding potential violations of privacy laws.

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    In the US, the employer often asks for an emergency contact number of a relative or a friend. I don't know the laws regarding this, but it is probably a good thing to have whether the employee has an accident during work or during off hours. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 24 '18 at 2:25

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