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One of our junior software developers is periodically in a no-call-no-show position where he does not show up without earlier notice. The team does not suffer during his absence, but still this absenteeism has a negative impact on teams' agenda.

The manager has talked verbally about this issue with the mentioned developer. His answer was there is no one to call the employer when he is sick.

Therefore the employer / manager has to wait till he has the energy to call back.

What should we do?

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    "The team does not suffer during his absence but still this absenteeism has a negative impact on teams' agenda" - that's a contradication – HorusKol Dec 20 '15 at 23:26
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    @HorusKol: It's poor phrasing, but I suspect the intent was on the line of: "We don't have to work extra hours to make up for the chronic no show; but the rest of the team is getting really frustrated and angry about what's going on." – Dan Neely Dec 20 '15 at 23:46
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    No call no show, no pay no job, unless there's a good and convincing reason. – keshlam Dec 21 '15 at 2:29
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    You really need HR to speak with this employee and figure out if this is legitimate. I would imagine that at a minimum this person has a serious chronic issue which should be easily proven with a doctor's note. Secondly, you need to establish a plan of action with this employee to ensure that they are not in danger. If they are too "weak" to call you then that means they are too weak to get out of their house if it catches fire. Is this person using Life Alert? – MonkeyZeus Dec 21 '15 at 3:09
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    "The team does not suffer during his absence" - so, to be a bit brutal, he is not necessary for the team's work. Why is he still employed? – Stephan Kolassa Dec 21 '15 at 8:06

12 Answers 12

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There can be any number of reasons, legitimate or not, for someone to miss work unexpectedly. Still, the employee must be able to meet the regular expected demands of the job. As this is a case of a repeat offender who has been spoken to about his behavior...

If you are the manager, it's your job to reiterate the expected behavior and clearly explain the consequences, and decide how many more times you will accept his misbehavior before applying the consequences.

Don't threaten to do anything you're not willing to follow through on. And don't fail to follow through if he tests you.

If you are not the manager, then it is your job to clearly identify the impact to the team to the manager and encourage him or her to take action.

If you have a team member whose absence causes no problems for the team, you should ask yourself why you even need them on the team at all.

Perhaps he realizes he is unnecessary and so he doesn't see the problem in not showing up? To see if this is the case, try giving him meaningful work to and see if he has more motivation to take his work seriously.

If nothing works to improve his attitude, you'll be doing him a favor in the long run if you help him learn the lesson of personal responsibility and choices and consequences. Let him go.

Edit: Removed the first comment to which many have taken offense. I apologize to those who suffer and do not get the benefit of unconsciousness to alleviate their pain.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Dec 22 '15 at 1:52
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    I had a trainee once who called in sick two days a week, then more and more till he didn't come at all. I knew privately via a friend that he was delivering fish for his dad who was sometimes too drunk to do it. So we called him in and told him, work or get sacked. And I said to him privately, just apply for unpaid leave till you get something worked out. But he was ashamed and continued calling in sick, so they fired him. I felt really bad - he was a good guy and just trying to help his family. – RedSonja Dec 22 '15 at 8:54
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Whilst I really like @Kent's answer, I feel there are some other things worth mentioning.

Mental illness

Perhaps your employee suffers from a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. He wakes up one morning, unable to do anything*. He may be too upset or even embarrassed to make a phone call. The next day, anxiety or embarrassment may prevent him from letting the manager know what prevented his work attendance.

His [the employee] answer was there is no one to call the employer when he is sick.

This could tie in with the mental illness, where he's usually had someone who could do this for him. Alternatively, he may have been too nurtured, and someone may have just done it for him regardless of when he was sick.

Easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission

Your employee may feel that he may be told he has to come to work, regardless of his illness. This isn't uncommon in retail industries (based on personal experience in Australia) and he may fear being told no. In Australian retail, it's not uncommon to have to get your shift covered when you're sick, and you may be told that you need to come into work anyway (this isn't necessarily legal, but managers do bully junior staff who don't really know their rights). It is probably quite easy to solve this, by letting him know that he can e-mail or text (if applicable), or that at least no one is going to say no when he calls to say he's sick. No one will tell him he has to come to work, the only reason you expect him to call is so you know he won't be there.

No motivation to contribute

The team does not suffer during his absence

Perhaps your employee is aware of this and this is why he doesn't feel like attending work. I know personally as a software developer I go crazy and get bored if I'm not working on anything. I don't think anyone wants to feel they aren't contributing, so perhaps your employee feels like he isn't contributing at work and isn't even needed there. This can quickly tie back to mental illness, where some days this feeling of unneeded-ness is worse than others.

absenteeism has a negative impact

It may be wise to let him know this. If nobody has to work extra to pick up the work he hasn't done, he might just feel unneeded and unessential.

Your options

I feel it's best to tread lightly, and make sure you cover all bases before taking (disciplinary) action. It's probably best to have the appropriate people (HR, his manager etc) sit down with him and discuss his behaviour in a positive way:

  • Discuss why "there is no one to call the employer" and why he feels someone should call on his behalf
  • If he has problems that stop him from attending frequently (you didn't mention how frequent this behaviour is) the employer may be able to help out if they know what's wrong
  • Let him know that it's important to inform the employer when he won't be at work. Failure to do so can make people worried about their team-mate (because if he isn't at work, and hasn't called in, he may have been in an accident etc)
  • If he's uncomfortable with calling, allow him to e-mail or text in. Inform him regardless that no one will stop him from not coming in, but you do require being notified (think about the reasons why you want your employees to inform you when they won't be in: scheduling, concern etc). He may be more comfortable doing this if he's scared or has a mental illness.

In summary, there may be a number of reasons why he exhibits this behaviour, and you should do your best to work out why he's doing it, and assuming you have good reasons why you want your employees to inform you about non-attendance, let him know that you won't accept it.

* Note that I'm not an expert on either of these illnesses, so anything I mentioned is pure speculation and not at all representative of how sufferers may act.

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    +1 this. and its not just mental illnesses. Any number of "invisible" chronic conditions (and/or side effects of their treatments) can cause a loss of energy to the extent of being unable to use the phone. Even something like arthritis (or the mentioned in a comment of migraines) can cause temporary inability to use a phone. Many chronic illnesses (including, little known fact, arthritis) can have temporary flareups to extreme levels -- this is a contributing factor in the invisible illness phenomenon -- "You don't seem sick", answer: "Because when I am sick, I am so sick no one sees me." – Lyndon White Dec 21 '15 at 2:51
  • Upvoted. It is, in some way, nice to see how many other people here seem to think that 'It's so easy to tell someone you're not well enough to go to work' - while not grasping the concepts of either physical or mental inability to face making that call/email. However, while nice that so many other people are that fortunate, it's not nice that they project their resulting biases onto others. Which is what we seem to be seeing here. – underscore_d Dec 21 '15 at 13:21
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    In the USA, the ADA laws require that employers must make accommodations for persons with disabilities, so that they can perform their job. Environment and tools are the most common accommodations. ADA does NOT protect employees from being fired if they cannot perform their job up to standard. A no show/no call employee isn't performing, and if the employee does not inform the employer of a disability that needs to be accommodated, they can (and probably should) be fired. eeoc.gov/facts/performance-conduct.html – Mohair Dec 21 '15 at 17:46
  • This is a wonderful answer. I have grappled with minor depression for my entire life, but every once in a while things get really bad, and it’s incredibly difficult to convey that just communicating the problem is a struggle when you can’t even explain to yourself why things you did yesterday without a second thought are now impossible. Having depression or anxiety is hard, and unfortunately, it is unreasonable to expect a team to work extra hard to compensate for one’s difficulties, but it makes a world of a difference to at least be aware of the sorts of things that can be going on. – Alexis King Dec 22 '15 at 4:34
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Unfortunately, there are illnesses that push you beyond sanity or ability, without knocking you into unconsciousness. Those illnesses are sometimes associated with prejudice and bias, prohibiting the sufferer into not talking about them. (*)

Possibly, the employee in question suffers such a condition? How to approach him/her?

Yes, the employee must somehow notify the company.

Agree on Mail

Self explaining. Agree that a mail is send, or even a personal message in chat, and that this mail/message reaches every person that needs to know. That message possibly should be prepared, so that all that it takes is to press the Send-button.

Instruct to ask someone else to notify the company

If he/she is too disabled, but lives together with someone, that someone should be instructed to notify the company in her/his name.

Dead Man Trigger

As a last resort instruct her/him to set up a dead man trigger. This could be as easy as an email scheduled to be send in the morning. If the person is not disabled in the morning, he/she would just cancel the sending of the message.

Talk

If there's enough intimacy and trust, the person may open up to his/her colleageus and tell them about the situation, or about the fact that she/he is sometimes simply disabled because of some severe condition. The team may agree that this person can schedule the sickness-message to a point of the day that is more acceptable to her/him. If this is applicable depends, of course.


(*) Examples

To give just two example for disabling conditions that don't knock you out, I include this section. The world is really not as trivial as the lucky sometimes think.

Migraine

Migraineurs are often confronted with ignorance of the "Everyone has headaches sometimes". But that is not migraine. Migraineurs have the Sometimes-Headaches, too. But additionally, they suffer migraine episodes which push them towards the boundary of sanity. They may have distracting, visual appearances (Aura). Light, noise, light touches can become extremely painful. The ears can become extremely sensible, to the point that you cringe from very silent sounds which you otherwise don't recognize at all.

Smells, certain food ingredients or something else may trigger migraine. The possibilities are endless, likewise the variations of the pain, which several times more severe than your I-drank-two-bottles-of-Vodka-and-Broke-the-Table-with-my-Head-headache. Even if you have painless migraines, you might be absolutely uncomfortable with the situation, to the point that all you can do is go find a silent and dark room.

Migraineurs are often confronted with incomprehension or underestimation of the "well, I have headache sometimes, too"-kind, which is even worse, so they often hide that illness from you.

Cluster Headache

Explaining migraines to the non-migraineur is not trivial. Cluster headache is. And the attacks are not pushing the sufferer to the limit of sanity, but cut the sufferer into pieces throwing them over that limit.

When you suffer cluster headache, it may feel as if a glowing hot knife is stabbed through one of your eyes, from the inside. Your left half of the face may feel like in a heated iron mask with nails on the inside, and someones rubbing it forth and back. Possibly, it also feels like you're on one of those torture machines that slowly drill a screw into your neck. Women who gave birth report that cluster headache often is worse; consider giving multiple births a day, and you get a picture of the severity that some clusterheads suffer.

It often takes many years before they even know that what they have has a name. Many doctor's don't know it, and will send you through CT, Röntgen, get a checkup on skull cancer, and so on. The whole process may (will) take years 'til a diagnose.

Cluster headache is rather unknown in the public, it's so surreal that clusterheads do not expect any "civilian" to understand the pain, and so they do not want to do that. Just have a look at the YouTube videos on cluster attacks, it looks sick, it is, and one does not want to talk about those moments you whinge like a baby.

Cluster attacks can last several hours, many times day (for episoders more commonly at night), and exhaust you to total inability. There is no cure, and it can take months or years till a medication is found, if at all. Also, even if the patient is having the acute attacks at night, it may cause so much exhaustion that the sleep that follows is so deep that only physical interruption wakes the person up.

Of course, not every cluster attack is that severe that you're feeling like quitting this all. Some persons regularly have that degree of pain, some fortunately not.

  • Seriously, the "dead man trigger" is a very creative and effective way to handle the issue of the employee not being able to notify management themselves. I like this because an employee who genuinely has problems calling in will appreciate the solution and most likely embrace it, while an employee who is just making up excuses will be forced to act somehow. It doesn't solve the problem of the employee not showing up, but it definitely helps the person who is legitimately unable to call in. – Dryden Long Dec 22 '15 at 17:54
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How often is this guy sick? That argument shouldn't work more than once.

Also, why can't he call or email? Unless he is in the hospital, I see no reason he can't dial the number of someone on the team to say he feels horrible and is taking a sick day. And the hospital would come with evidence.

Even when I'm really sick, my alarm goes off and I have to shut it off. Now I'm awake. I usually have to go to the bathroom at this point so I'm awake enough to email or call.

In response to the comments, I also want to note that I think it depends on what happens after. If he calls in at night or even the next morning with "I can't believe this; I slept for 24 hours straight and totally forgot it was a work day and I should have let you know.", this is different than just ignoring it. I'd be inclined to believe the person who brought it up.

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    There are more illnesses that really disable you, without having to be in the hospital or being unconscious. – phresnel Dec 21 '15 at 10:20
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    True, that's hard to imagine if you don't know examples of those. To name examples, arthritis can really disable you mechanically, or cluster headaches, which can be more painful than giving birth. – phresnel Dec 21 '15 at 13:10
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    @phresenl, every person I have ever worked with who has those medical issues, still manages to call in sick. And if he is disabled to that point, then he should not be living alone as he won't be able to manage going to the bathroom or eating. – HLGEM Dec 21 '15 at 16:26
  • Added a paragraph about what happens when someone really forgets/can't call. If someone has arthritis or something that he/she can't get up, it would be a good idea to have a phone within reach of the bed in case of having to call for help. Which means the person can call in. – Jeanne Boyarsky Dec 22 '15 at 4:26
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    @JoeStrazzere It is hard to imagine, even for me, and there was a time when I was struggling with precisely those problems. You have to understand that, in a state of depression-induced anxiety, the mind is not particularly rational. There’s nothing physically difficult about making a call or sending an email, but the overwhelming guilt (which again, the incapacitated person probably already knows is irrational) can be paralyzing. Is this an excuse? Not really, no. But it can be very hard to convey that such a thing really is possible even if you personally have never experienced it. – Alexis King Dec 22 '15 at 4:38
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how to handle no call no show issues?

Attendance and communication are mandatory. If he can be a no show without consequences, anyone can. If this continues it will deteriorate the team. He needs to handle illness and absenteeism professionally or else be removed. However not only is his excuse/reason not professional, it is not healthy.

This guy might be suffering from depression, alcoholism or another disorder. You would not want a lawsuit if he's later diagnosed and protected under ADA or something. Even so allowing this behavior to continue will result in problems with team morale, especially if any junior employees are added.

He should be counseled on two things. First, he needs to be advised to seek healthcare assistance: a physical and/or psychological evaluation of his inability to communicate when ill. Second, the next time he is absent without communication in advance and also has not seen (or at least scheduled a visit with) a medical professional, he should be put on probation and/or terminated.

This provides a course of action, sets clear expectations and allows for a professional discussion about what sounds like an absurd excuse for lack of communication. It's possible you will want legal advice if this is a medical condition.

  • If he has a disease that means he can't call in (which I find ridiculous as I and many many other people manage to call in when we have migraines or depression, etc.), then he needs to provide proof to HR and request an accommodation. – HLGEM Dec 21 '15 at 16:24
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    @HLGEM - "feeling depressed" is not what I mean. If you mean you've been diagnosed with depression, then you are like some people that I've known that find it difficult to communicate when having an episode. And yes, I am saying that the employee needs a reported medical diagnosis if that is the case, not just a "I'm feeling depressed" excuse – Jim Dec 21 '15 at 19:08
  • Should this and that. If he has an agreement with his boss about this being ok, then he is good and the team should learn to deal with it. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 22 '15 at 6:46
  • @Jim, I have had clinical depression for over 40 years. It is still no excuse to not call in. – HLGEM Dec 22 '15 at 14:21
  • @HLGEM - I agree. However, I am not a psychologists, and someone that thinks that's a valid reason needs help not available at the workplace. – Jim Dec 22 '15 at 19:27
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Make sure he understands that a short mail "sick at home 2 days" is better than nothing. Enforce medical treatment and confirmation to avoid sleeping-in. Make sure the team knows the situation is being handled by "trying to find a solution together", no details unless he volunteers them.

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    Agree with the mail. Medical treatment can't be enforced, though. For some illnesses, there is no medication, or existing medication has brought no success. – phresnel Dec 21 '15 at 10:23
  • I meant requiring medical help as part of the process, a doctor will still write not-fit-for-work even if its untreatable. – user45198 Dec 21 '15 at 20:31
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Reporting in sick must be easy and quick.

I have worked for companies that require you to PHONE in and SPEAK to your manager, that can take 30 minutes on the phone if someone has to go to find the manager. It also has to be done at a time when the manger is at work – not good if someone wakes up sick at 6am and knows that are not fit to go into work that day.

Therefore allow email and/or txt to be used.

Never say anything negative to someone that reports in sick, they are helping you by doing so. Don’t question if the sickness is real etc. Leave all the questioning until the person is better, or let HR contact them after a few days.

(Remember some people don't have a phone line or mobile coverage at home, there are even people without internet access at home.)

2

There are 3 possibilities; either he's skiving, he's got a serious condition or he's unaware of how you're supposed to handle this stuff.

If it's the first, then there really is no alternative to disciplinary action culminating in firing. At the end of the day, you'll be looking to replace him with someone for the same cost who can do the job. On the other hand, if you genuinely can't find a replacement for him, then something is wrong with your company that needs fixing first, and to be honest, if you're in a state where you can't afford to lose him, you will just have to accept him right up to the point where his contribution falls to the point where you can.

If he is seriously ill, even if it's an intermittent condition, then firstly, he needs to provide a note from a medical professional stating that he's afflicted and seeking treatment. After that, you should work with him to resolve the issues where possible, but if it proves that he's not capable of doing the job you need him to do, that's a delicate problem for your HR and management structure. Unless you're willing to do the research on the legal ramifications, and take on the ethics of firing sick people for being sick, you should stay out of it. If he's a good worker when he's in, but this is his "drawback", in the same way you'd accept a person with 100% attendance who works at a slower speed, build in the structure to cope with the absences (which from your post sounds like you already have).

If he's honestly unaware that you can't simply not call in, you need to make it clear that there is always a way for him to let you know. He has an expected arrival time, right? At absolute worst, if this is frequent behaviour, someone should call him at that time whenever he's not there by then. But basically, he doesn't get an out on this. When you are not well, or have a family crisis, or simply don't want to turn up today and are planning to use up some of your toil, you let people know either in advance or on the day at the beginning of the day, so they can plan around it, especially if it's regular enough that they'd need to. If the policy on that isn't baked into his employment contract, then someone has failed massively, and it needs to be fixed. If it is, then the contract is God. Do what it says.

1

You need to establish what the issue is. If someone is regularly unable to work for whatever reason, it's in their best interest to see a doctor. If they haven't done so yet, make them do that. Make sure to keep any health information they then pass on to you strictly confidential, if you can't do that (e.g. company policy allows only HR to discuss health issues with employees and you are not HR), delegate the entire process to someone who can.

Once you know what the issue is, don't read up on the illness on the net - real life symptoms are trickier than what Wikipedia can explain. Contact a doctor. You can work with the doctor to figure out what other people suffering from this specific condition do to contact their workplace. In most cases agreeing on sending a pre-written email is a fallback that will work.

If this leads to the conclusion that the worker is able but not willing to contact the employer, treat it the same as any other willful neglection of duties. If it leads to the conclusion that the employee was lying, consider immediate termination. If it's inconclusive, treat it as a real disease that hasn't been properly diagnosed yet.

1

It isn't always easy to call in. Sometimes it is a pain in the ass if people are reporting globally. How you handle this depends on how well you want the worker working for you.

If they are truly sick I think you should try to make some protocol. Whatever you can agree on is easiest - email, VM, whatever. You need to get to the bottom of what is going on though. I know countries have privacy rights but if you have no idea what is going on then you will have no idea how to handle it.

I used to personally send one of my tech guys over to another's apartment to check on him. I will tell you from years of managing that I have had similar things happen 10-15 times. Almost all times there was some dependency on alcohol or drugs. (Twice it was medical and after talking it through it was easier to deal with)

What do you do?

  1. Talk about this with the most senior person you have/manager. Get their input on the employee. How they behave, if they are getting work done, any other issues at work (disappears for time, takes a break at 2 PM everyday).

  2. Agree with employee that this is private and not talked about with the team.

  3. Determine if you are going to work with the "tardy" employee. This is based on how well of a job they do, what other employees think, and really your stress level.

What have I done?

  1. I have read several the riot act. Told them one more time and they are gone. I find this is a mistake unless you are dealing with a borderline employee you don't mind firing.

  2. Agree to unpaid time off if it happens X times. This is the best solution I have found as it sets a real punishment and allows them to think about their actions.

  3. Agree that the employee will spend time in a rehab/medical facility (many company's pay for this). This is works great but is dependent on employee admitting issues.

0

A lot of this depends on the employment laws and regulations which you must adhere to. Given you haven't provided any details, we can't be very specific, but here are some considerations:

  • Some illnesses are truly immediate and debilitating with no warning.
  • If he's capable when he's on site, and the disruption isn't too great, then I'd suggest asking for the note and making allowances. The note enforces the limitations to this type of accommodation - if someone else attempts the same behavior without explanation, you can follow the same process of requesting a medical explanation for required accommodations.
  • If he's unable to produce the required medical accommodation information, then you get to decide what to do. If he's an overall asset to the company, make some accommodations. If he's dragging the team down too much, explain the company policy about medical accommodations given when provided with medical notes, the company policy about lateness/absences, and enforce them. As long as he has the information, then it's his choice to seek medical attention and the proper diagnosis, or to seek another job that might be more forgiving of his situation.

While there are technical solutions that might mitigate the problem, alerting you when he's not coming in, for instance, be careful that you don't step into his life too much. Clearly delineating the work/personal relationship is important, not just legally, but to avoid the small possibility that enabling his behavior may actually hurt him in the long run. Strongly encouraging him to seek medical attention and provide a medical explanation may help him more than simply giving him broad accommodations without understanding the underlying problem.

Note that you should emphasize that you need information about medically required accommodations - not necessarily information about the medical condition, diagnosis, treatment, etc. Only the information you, as the employer, needs to know to accommodate his needs. Not only is this legally risky to request too much information, but again you run into an issue you you may start trying to help him too much. Making accommodations is good, but trying to "fix" someone when you aren't a medical professional is not good for either party.

-2

Sack him, his excuse doesn't hold water, and it's an ongoing issue. Terminate his employment, he has a bad work ethic.

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    Yeah right, life is trivial. – phresnel Dec 21 '15 at 10:11
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    An employer is running a business, people have to run their own lives. You can't run a business if staff just show up whenever they want. That's just common sense. – Kilisi Dec 21 '15 at 17:18
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    "whenever they want" != "whenever they can". If the reason for the absence is legitimate, in some places sacking the person for being ill will be a lot more expensive than keeping them on. – Peter Dec 21 '15 at 19:29
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    The onus is on the employee to let work know he/she can't be there, if they're doing it constantly than they have a bad work ethic... unsure why that is hard to understand for some of you. It's a junior I don't see how sacking them can be more expensive, not showing up to work is a good enough excuse. – Kilisi Dec 21 '15 at 20:07
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    constantly NOT showing up, and NOT letting work know... the combination is bad work ethic... no idea what you are on about – Kilisi Dec 22 '15 at 11:27

protected by Jane S Dec 21 '15 at 12:16

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