An employee who ditches their job without notice throws their team a curveball.
Most businesses know how to handle vacation time and the occasional absenteeism. Teams can plan ahead for coworkers who give notice of a doctor’s appointment, family obligation, or mental health day. But the unexpectedness and lack of clarity of job abandonment put extra pressure on a team and hinder morale.
Sometimes, an unexplained absence has a valid but unshared explanation — like a medical emergency that leaves an employee incommunicado. Or perhaps an employee feels their work environment is unsafe. No matter the situation, managing job abandonment carefully helps your team bounce back and safeguards the organization from potential legal repercussions.
What’s job abandonment?
Job abandonment is when an employee leaves without plans to return and doesn’t formally submit a notice of resignation. And some employers consider consecutive absences without authorization to be job abandonment.
There are no federal laws or state statutes that define job abandonment. Employers are responsible for developing a job abandonment definition with internal rules and a termination procedure.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about job abandonment:
Is job abandonment quitting? When an employee unexpectedly leaves their job without following the typical procedure — giving two weeks’ notice or following another company policy — the employer might consider it a voluntary resignation.
Is job abandonment illegal? While leaving your job isn’t a crime, you might experience legal consequences for abandoning an employment contract. For example, in some states, a teacher who abandons their job mid-year might lose their teaching license.
How many days is considered job abandonment? No federal employment law defines a number of days equaling abandonment. Instead, your employer will likely set internal guidelines.
7 job abandonment causes
While management expects to have a formal conversation about quitting a job or taking a sabbatical, an employee might abandon their position to escape a toxic work environment or handle severe stress.
Here are seven reasons someone might abandon their job:
Confrontation: Some employees feel so uncomfortable having difficult conversations that they avoid discussions altogether. Chatting about poor performance, behavior issues, or salary expectations might make them want to quit.
A new job offer: An employee might receive a tempting offer that better fits their interests, desired work-life balance, and short and long-term goals. And not needing a reference may empower them to jump ship without notice.
Burnout: Someone who’s mentally fatigued and physically burned out might feel too overwhelmed to execute a formal resignation process. According to a 2022 Gallup survey, 3 out of 4 employees experience burnout — and the signs typically go unnoticed by employers.
Fear of termination: If an employee thinks their manager might fire them, they might leave first.
An unclear company policy: Employees might not know the consequences of unexcused absences or how to ask for time off. Companies should share clear policies surrounding how much time staff can take off and how to properly ask for it.
Poor mental health: Employees struggling with mental health issues take nearly 12 days of unplanned absences each year, almost five times more than average.
It’s important to note the cause of someone’s job abandonment. If harassment motivates an employee’s sudden leave, an employer must take responsibility and work with their HR department to improve the company’s workplace environment.
What are the consequences of job abandonment?
Every employee serves an important purpose. When an employee fails to fulfill their responsibilities — no matter the reason — it causes a ripple effect that impacts the entire organization.
Here are six consequences of abandonment:
Dips in productivity: An unexpected absence delays timelines and forces teammates to pick up the slack. A larger workload might burn out or frustrate the team, lowering productivity and morale. And onboarding a new team member can take several months and steals time from managers that could work on other tasks.
Higher recruitment costs: Employee turnover is costly. Recruitment, interviewing, and onboarding add up. For businesses big and small, losing an employee represents a significant financial blow. When job abandonment and employee turnover become frequent issues, it creates expensive and unexpected expenditures that pull the budget away from other necessities.
Damaged reputation: Continuous job abandonment could harm a company’s reputation. Potential hires, workers, and customers may assume this reflects a toxic work culture or bad company health.
Decreased morale: Employees leaving suddenly can feel negative to teammates left in the lurch and wondering what caused the abandonment. And a manager might feel down and disappointed if they didn’t notice tell-tale signs earlier on, like stress or disengagement.
Strained relationships: If the exiting employee had a client-facing role, this sudden disappearance might harm these relationships.
Legal issues: Handling job abandonment requires legal considerations that depend on one’s state and the absence’s circumstances. Without a clear job abandonment policy or established protocols, the organization puts itself at risk of expensive legal payouts.
How to write a job abandonment letter
A manager, supervisor, or HR professional can draft and send an abandonment letter to inform their employer of the unexcused leave. Here’s the information you’ll use to create this document:
- Correspondence date
- Follow-up contact details
- Number of days the employee’s been gone
- Record of previous phone calls, emails, or communication related to any unnotified absences
- Copies of absence-related policies
- Copies of any requests to the employee for information on their whereabouts
- Consequences of a voluntary termination without notice or information regarding the termination
There are situations where employees can’t contact, such as incarceration or a sudden family emergency. Remember to first contact the absent employee several times, professionally and kindly, to ensure they’ve abandoned the job.
How to deal with job abandonment: 4 tips
If you’d like to improve internal policies related to job abandonment, audit the employee handbook and HR manual. You could also gain staff feedback to ensure they understand and agree with the company’s protocols.
Here are four more tips for handling an employee’s sudden leave.
1. Establish a point of contact
The HR team should decide who’s responsible for contacting the employee, whether that’s their manager or an HR professional. You may want to establish a chain of command, like where the employee’s direct higher-up is the first point of contact at the start and then, if several days pass, an HR representative follows up.
2. Review the protocol
If an employee no-shows, the employer is responsible for investigating the situation. This reduces the chance of losing legal battles and satisfies most HR department requirements.
To ensure you cover your bases, create a system to record every correspondence or adopt an HR software like Workday to track employee information.
Here’s a protocol example you might adopt:
Day one: Initial contact to find out why they missed their shift and when they plan to return.
Day two: Second contact after 24 hours to inquire about unnotified absences via phone and other forms of written communication, like text or email.
Day three: Contact family members or emergency contact.
Certified letter: Send an email with clear stipulations about termination.
Final contact: If they don’t respond to the last letter, declare termination in writing by creating an abandonment letter for the employer and sending the employee a copy that includes information about the next steps, like receiving their final paycheck, returning company property, and signing insurance forms.
3. Follow proper legal procedures
Before proceeding with the termination, the organization should respect local, state, and federal labor laws. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides a minimum of 12 workweeks of leave over 12 months of job protection to attend to personal or family medical issues.
Also review the following information in the employee handbook:
Is there a stipulated number of consecutive absences the employer considers job abandonment?
Is there a clear expectation or specific form of communication to inform absences?
Is information about absences visible in the workplace?
4. Be kind and confidential
In the best-case scenario, an employee has an explanation for a couple unexpected absences, and the employee will return to work in due time. Handling the situation with privacy and empathy shows you care about your colleague’s well-being.
Back to business as usual
Job abandonment is unexpected and disruptive — but not unmanageable. To keep the team on target, management and HR employees can follow respectful and well-documented measures to quickly handle an absent employee.
Remember: sudden absenteeism isn’t always a sign of abandonment. Set up a communication cadence for checking in on MIA employees to ensure they have the chance to explain themselves.
And if you audit company procedures, create clear step-by-step guides for managers, and make policy documents widely available to all staff, everyone will understand what to do when they must miss work — and you’ll know how to effectively handle their absence.