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3 Steps to Identifying and Preventing Job Abandonment in Your Medical Practice

UPDATED 9/2/22

It’s unfortunate that, on occasion, a team member may fail to come to work for an extended period of time without explanation.

This unexcused absence puts significant strain on other team members and can negatively impact patient care and make it difficult for your practice to respond to a medical emergency.

For dental, optometry, or other medical practice managers, the question is when should they deem the job abandoned and hire a replacement? Fortunately, you can prepare for this scenario by having a clear practice policy on the matter. When the circumstance arises, there are specific steps to protect your practice and fulfill your obligations to the employee.

What Is Job Abandonment? 

A team member may fail to report to work for many reasons. Abandonment has a specific definition: the individual does not come into the practice and does not communicate regarding the absence with the practice leader. This employee also doesn’t request leave. The "no show, no call" has to last for multiple consecutive days to qualify as job abandonment. Many practices specify that job abandonment occurs after two days of no contact. To make sure this is clear to all of your employees, it’s best to outline all of this in your employee handbook. 

Before moving forward, there are a few things you need to know. Learn more about emergency leave and the employment litigation risks that arise first. Now that you understand this, you can move on to dealing with job abandonment as outlined below.


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Steps To Prepare For and Handle Job Abandonment 

Even if it appears someone has abandoned their job, the practice leader, manager, or employer should follow certain steps before recruiting a replacement. After all, there may have been an emergency. The team member may have been unable to come in or communicate through no fault of their own. 

Thankfully, it's pretty easy to prevent this kind of miscommunication. You need to set expectations in writing concerning topics like communication, reporting to work, and arriving on time. That way, everyone will try to keep in touch -- even in the middle of a crisis. 

Absenteeism should also be clearly outlined in the company policy so team members are well aware of the risks of not showing up to work. This applies to many medical practices, including dental offices, optometry clinics, physical therapy practices, pharmacies, and other healthcare practices.

Ensure that your employee handbook covers essential topics like attendance policies, an absence policy, a job abandonment clause, and actions that may lead to employee termination or voluntary termination.

Returning to work has been particularly complex during the global health crisis. HR for Health can help you navigate these issues. Here’s a step-by-step guide to managing a situation that may be job abandonment.

Step 1: Outline Your Job Abandonment Policy 

Include a job abandonment policy in your employee handbook. This is essential for two distinct reasons.

• First, it provides a transparent, easy-to-follow guideline for team members. It removes the possibility that an employee may appear to abandon their job out of a simple misunderstanding.

• Second, practice leaders can apply a policy fairly, free of personal feelings or emotions. A policy is an objective expectation.

Also, recall that punctuality and attendance are closely linked to job abandonment. Your employee handbook should have a clear policy on these issues. List essential details, like the number of “no call, no show” days that would result in an unexplained absence where an employee abandons their job, along with who to call if a team member has a personal emergency or otherwise cannot come into work on a particular day. If a team member needs time off on short notice, how is this handled? This is another topic that should be clear from the beginning.


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Step 2: Reach Out to the Employee 

If an employee doesn’t come to work and doesn’t communicate, the practice leader should reach out and try to contact the employee each day that the employee does not report to work. Use the phone number and email you have in the employee's file. Try to use other methods of communication (e.g., text) if phone and email don’t work, and be sure you document every attempt to reach out to the employee. These kinds of situations are why it's also a good idea to have alternate contact information in case the first is unsuccessful.

Remember to stay considerate and open-minded. An emergency could be the underlying reason the employee isn’t at work. An unexpected emergency involving a family member could explain why the employee didn’t promptly request a leave of absence. Choose your words with care. Document the date and time of each contact attempt for the employee record. In your voicemail and email, leave a number where the employee can reach you if they don’t have the information on hand. You can also learn about employer obligations before moving forward with the next steps.

Take care to consider all of the facts before you resort to the termination of employment, particularly to ensure you’re acting in accordance with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). After all, the team member may have a reasonable explanation for their absence, and you want to protect your practice from a wrongful termination lawsuit. 

Step 3: Process Job Abandonment as a Resignation 

Suppose you still hear nothing from the employee, and the time outlined in your employee handbook has passed. In that case, you can go ahead and determine that the employee has opted for voluntary resignation. If the team member is in a protected class by virtue of age, short-term disability, pregnancy, or other factors, consult an HR specialist or lawyer before taking any legal action. There may be additional obligations to this individual that you must fulfill.

For employees NOT in a protected class, fill out the required resignation paperwork, and complete the following:

Mail a final paycheck and two copies of all relevant forms to the employee. Enclose a stamped return envelope so the employee can sign each form and mail it back to the practice with ease. Include at least the following forms:

• Change in Relationship. This form should directly quote the job abandonment policy listed in your employee handbook.

• Final Paycheck Acknowledgement. This confirms that the former team member has received outstanding payments and other entitlements.

When you mail the final paycheck, send it with delivery confirmation to know when the employee receives the documentation. 

When you're ready to hire a new employee, HR for Health can help you with interview guidance, application documents, onboarding, and the termination process, including offering job abandonment letter templates and termination letter templates. Read our FAQs here


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How To Proactively Prevent Job Abandonment

It pays to do all that you can to take preventative measures to avoid unexcused absences and termination of employment when an employee abandons their job. Before you’re faced with having to go through that, consider taking the following proactive  steps to prevent the employee from abandoning the job in the first place.

• Ensure you have a job abandonment policy in place.

• Conduct employee performance reviews on a regular basis.

• Keep employees motivated with a positive company culture.

• Create surveys to allow employees to provide feedback.

• Offer time off for medical leave and vacation time.

• Enhance team scheduling practices.

Job abandonment is different from a no-call, no-show absence, which means an employee typically returns to their job within a specified number of days even if they place no phone calls. Job abandonment, where an employee disappears and never comes back, causes a great strain on an organization. While you can skip disciplinary steps and go right to the termination procedure, be sure to check FMLA and disability laws. There are different scenarios and medical reasons that could inhibit an employee’s intention of returning to work.


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Optimize Your HR Processes with HR for Health

Medical professionals prioritize serving patients and families. They rely on their team members to contribute to an efficient and welcoming practice. It's increasingly important to have professional HR support for issues that arise. Job abandonment is one of those HR challenges that HR for Health can make easier. To learn about our solutions, including an employee handbook customized to your medical practice, as well as performance management and time and attendance tracking software, talk to us for an HR consultation today.

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