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HR Insights with Ali: Job Abandonment, what is It?

Posted on 8/16/2017 by Ali Oromchian, Esq.
Job abandonment occurs when an employee fails to notify their employer that they have no intention of returning to work. But how do you know when an employee has truly abandoned their position? What if they requests time off and take it before the approval has gone through? What if they simply do not come back after lunch? Properly defining what constitutes “abandonment” is necessary in order to ensure that you are not improperly terminating an employee.

No universal, legal definition of “job abandonment” exists. Instead, abandonment must be defined in Practice policy - specifically, in your employee handbook. Your handbook will contain a policy such as “X number of shifts missed without notification of the supervisor” constitutes job abandonment. However, in order for this policy to be effective, you must enforce it universally. It will be used as your defense in proving that an employee’s actions constituted a voluntary departure on their part, as opposed to a termination on yours.

Why does this distinction matter? Unemployment claims are a big reason. As “job abandonment” is typically considered a voluntary departure by the employee, there would be no eligibility for unemployment benefits. This same argument can be made if the employee were to claim an unlawful termination took place. By having a clearly defined abandonment policy in your handbook, coupled with proof of unapproved absences (as well as a solid history of policy enforcement), you would have a strong case to dispute an unlawful termination claim by the departed employee. It is also helpful to have established policies in place for continuation of medical coverage in the case of job abandonment, so that both the employer and the employee are well-informed and know what to expect under the circumstances.

One last important point: No matter the circumstances under which an employee leaves your practice, they will always be entitled to receive any wages that they have earned. It may also be advisable to follow-up with an employee (via certified letter, for example) to let them know that they will be presumed to have abandoned their employment if they fail to provide an explanation for the absences (in the case of unexpected hospitalization, etc.); however, you always want to ensure that you are following the same universal policy for all affected employees. Outlining and following a clear policy will help to prevent any future discrimination claims if an employee argues that they was treated differently from other affected employees.

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