My Employee's gone AWOL and I don't know why! What should I do?

Oh dear. Your employee hasn’t shown up for work and you don’t know why. One minute you’re concerned for their welfare, and the next minute you’re pulling your hair out because they’ve let you down. 

The technical HR term for this is "going AWOL" (absence without leave). But it's also called ‘ghosting’ 👻 which comes from the online social dating scene. 

There’s a proper way to handle this situation, and it starts by putting your emotions to one side. Your job now, is to demonstrate that you’re a fair and responsible employer.

Here’s how.


Did you suspect this might happen? Perhaps there’s been absence issues in the past?

Or, is this new behaviour? And it comes as a complete surprise to you. If so, apply a bit of common sense. For example, if this is totally out of character for this person, perhaps something unexpected has happened at home?


Okay, so an unauthorised absence is when your employee hasn’t come into work – and you haven’t been notified or told why. This is actually a disciplinary offence.

Your employment contracts or policies should say what your staff members are meant to do – should they need time off – including when and how they should let you know.

Before taking any action, check you haven’t got your wires crossed. It sounds bonkers, but running a small business can be totally intense, and it’s really easy to forget conversations you’ve had with your people about time off.

Of course, an authorised absence is one that’s been arranged with you in advance. For example, when your employee is taking time off to go on their jollies, or to attend a dental appointment. Ouch!

If this isn’t the case – despite how unfair the situation is – you can’t just sack your employee. There are rules you must follow to avoid falling foul of the law. In 2018/19, there were 660 cases of unfair dismissal where individuals were awarded on average, a whopping £13,704 in compensation from an employment tribunal

By the way, these figures are from GOV.UK tribunal statistics.


It’s your job to proactively try and reach your employee if they’re not at work, and they haven’t been in touch to explain what’s going on.

Give them a buzz and leave them a message if you can’t get through.

You should also try ringing their emergency contact – just in case something unforeseen has happened.

The number of times you attempt contact depends on the job they do, how it’s affecting your business, and whether it’s normal for this person. Remember to use a bit of common sense, and always be fair and reasonable.

Whatever happens, jot down what you’ve said, and when you said it. Further down the line – if this becomes a disciplinary issue – you’ll need to show how you took sensible steps to reach your employee.


If you’re still not getting any joy, send a letter by post – and perhaps by email too – if you have their personal email address details. Some employers choose to send the letter by recorded delivery to stand a better chance of it being seen.

In the letter you should:

  • Show your concern for their wellbeing
  • Explain the impact their disappearance is having on your business
  • Ask them to get in touch, to discuss what’s going on and what they plan to do
  • Get specific about how they should contact you and when by
  • Point out that an unauthorised absence is misconduct and could lead to disciplinary action


If you’ve heard nothing, it’s time to kick-off disciplinary action. Send another letter, inviting them to a disciplinary hearing. Give them enough notice to attend, make sure it’s at a place they can get to, and say they can bring somebody with them if they like. For example, a colleague or union rep.

A ‘hearing’ is a fancy word for a meeting where you:
  • Explain what your employee has done wrong
  • Present the evidence to back-up your complaint
  • Allow your member of staff to say what’s happened from their perspective

Don’t ✋🏼 make any decisions during the hearing, just tell them you’ll put your decision in writing ASAP.


Whether your employee showed up to your hearing or not, are you going to sack them? Whatever you decide, get it in writing and get it sent. In that letter though, you must mention that they have a right to appeal your decision by sending youa letter explaining why they think you’ve been unfair.

Check out my 👉🏼Disciplinary & Dismissal Toolkit if you need a little helping hand. <insert website link>


You should know by now that all people problems need to be handled with kid gloves. To protect yourself and your business, you should:
  • Be totally fair and reasonable at all times ✅
  • Really think about the person you’re dealing with. Is this new or normal behaviour? 🤔
  • Keep a written log of all contact – including what was said, who by, and when 📝
  • Jot down the genuine impacts on your business. For example, having to let a customer down 😡
  • Be driven by what’s written in your employee contracts and handbooks to make sure you’re following your own disciplinary policies 📄


‘Ghosting’ employers has become more prevalent in Japan because of their culture 🇯🇵 It’s frowned upon by some people to simply give up on a job and admit defeat. This has caused employees to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid handing in their resignation. 

Employee turnover rates are low because workers tend to stick to a job, regardless of whether it’s satisfying their needs or not. ‘Ghosting’ is seen as a much easier option to eyeballing an employer and telling them they want to leave. This has led to businesses being set up, offering to resign on people’s behalf!


  • When you’re being ‘ghosted’ by your employee, it’s SOOO hard not to react emotionally. But there are proper procedures you must follow to prevent grievances, and employment tribunals 👻

  • Ask yourself this: is this normal behaviour for your member of staff? If it’s not, common sense applies❓

  • Check there hasn’t been a mix up on your side. It’s easy to forget what you’ve agreed to when you’re maxed-out #embarrassing 🤔

  • Attempt fair and reasonable contact in every way possible – and jot down everything that’s been said, and when you said it. ☎️

  • Remember, an unauthorised absence is misconduct. Follow the disciplinary policies you have. A disciplinary hearing will probably be required. 👩🏼‍⚖️

  • Whatever the outcome, decide whether to dismiss your employee – sticking to the proper procedures if you do. 📑

  • At the end of the day, learn from the experience and move on.


Feel free to book a free consultation with me if you have questions, and I can explain a bit more. 

Mandy Hamerla

Mandy Hamerla​

Virtual HR Director & Leadership Mentor. I create game-changing HR & Hiring Strategies for ambitious small businesses in the UK and support you to lead your team with confidence. Check out my shop to download HR Templates & Contracts designed to make life easier.