Is it Job Abandonment?

If you missed work for a few days or a couple of months, would anyone notice? Would anyone know or even care if you never show up to the office for years?

Remember Joaquín García the 69-year-old engineer who did not go to work at the municipal water board in Spain for six years (and possibly up to fourteen years or more). The now retired Spanish civil servant job was to supervise a wastewater treatment plant. Shouldn’t a supervisor or manager contact an employee at least by phone, email, even text messages, or by whatever means necessary when a worker is absent (no call, no show or M.I.A.)? How could he do his job, if he never went to work?

You must be wondering how he skipped work for so long without anyone noticing. Because usually when an employee fails to show up to work on consecutive days without notifying their supervisor or requesting time off, it is considered job abandonment or a voluntary resignation. Right? Well… that all depends.

García started working for the local authority in 1990. He was later posted to the municipal water board in 1996. Since García was still on the payroll, in 2010 he became eligible for his long-service award. Deputy mayor Jorge Blas Fernández, the person who had hired him, questioned where García was.

Where Are You?Fernández thought, “Where is this man? Is he still there? Has he retired? Has he died?”

Apparently, he could not find him at work. A former manager of the water board told the deputy mayor he had not seen “his employee” for several years. His office was opposite García’s office. Fernandez contacted the engineer to find out what was really going on with him.

He asked, “What are you doing? What did you do yesterday? And the previous month?”

 

However, García could not answer. Why would any employer let this sort of nonsense happen for so long? This is such a strange situation.

Employers need a clear policy in their employee handbooks that conveys the number of days an employee can miss before it is considered resignation by job abandonment. When an employee misses three shifts without contacting a supervisor, is it job abandonment? What if s/he does not return from lunch or break, is that considered job abandonment? Not having a policy in place can put the employer in a sticky situation, especially when there are accounts involving other workers who have been terminated for less or more absences. Note that inconsistency can be used against employers.

Anyway, the court ruled in favor of the employer. In February 2016, it found that the engineer did not occupy his office for “at least six years” and had done “no work” between 2007 and 2010, a year before retiring. Unfortunately, the most his former employer could legally reclaim was a measly €27,000 ($30,000) which is the equivalent of his annual salary after tax. In his defense, García claimed he went to the office, but did not always work regular business hours.

Sorry NOT SORRY!You know, some employees get a little taste of autonomy then it goes straight to their heads. They do the wrong thing just because they know they can get away with it. You know the type: they are continuously tardy for work, take extended lunches and breaks, have excessive absences, or like in this case take on new hobbies or special interest at the company’s expense. Interestingly, García became an expert on the works of Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher credited with laying the foundations of the Enlightenment as well as an avid reader of philosophy all while collecting his paycheck.

Employees should notify their supervisor or managers of any absences as well as any changes to their work schedule, office location, and so on. It is a good practice to check in at the office sometimes too. Likewise, managers and supervisors should check in with their employees. Seriously, do you want to give a long-time medal to an employee who does not deserve it? It does not hurt to call, instant message, or drop by their actual office from time to time to see how things are going. After all, you may learn something wonderful about your employee. Besides, taking time out just for face-to-face conversation is a beautiful thing. When an employee works in a different location, telecommutes, or does not work normal business hours, maintaining effective communication is key. Since laws vary by state and or country, it is wise to be knowledgeable of them and to follow good practices.

 

Here are a few good practices for employers.

  • Have a clear policy for absenteeism, job abandonment, etc.
  • Define what constitutes job abandonment with examples.
  • Contact the employee to get a good understanding of their situation.
  • Discuss and provide options if necessary: for example, they may need medical paperwork for FMLA, short-term disability, etc.
  • Notify the employee of the actions regarding termination and provide at least five business days for a response
  • Use a method that requires a signature
  • Document each step of a job abandonment termination

 

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