Unauthorised absence

The University of Oxford has a duty of care to all its members of staff, and also an obligation to report unauthorised absence of sponsored migrants to the Home Office.

It is recognised that in a research environment departments may be content for staff to work to an irregular pattern and monitoring the attendance of members of the University is not always straightforward. This guidance is not intended to interfere with any working patterns as agreed with the department. However, it is important to act appropriately and proportionately in the event of the unexpected absence of any staff member. Aside from management issues, such absence may indicate that the individual is at risk, for example from an accident or an illness.

Departments should ensure that all members of the department are informed of the procedures for reporting any type of absence (e.g. sickness, domestic emergency etc). When a member of staff is absent from work without making prior arrangements in line with the University’s leave procedures or notifying their department that they are sick, or that they have a family emergency, such leave may be deemed unauthorised. Staff members of the University should familiarise themselves with key policies, including the procedure for reporting all types of absence, as outlined in Section 4 of the staff handbooks. It is the staff members' own responsibility to report any type of absence to their department in line with the reporting procedures as set by the University and/or the department.

Whilst unauthorised absence can potentially lead to disciplinary action, it is essential that each case is investigated thoroughly to establish the reasons for the absence and the individual circumstances.

Practical guidance

Unexplained and/or unexpected absence from work must be pro-actively managed by the department from the first day that the staff member fails to attend work without reporting their absence in line with the standard procedures, as outlined in Section 4 of the staff handbooks.

The line manager, the Departmental Administrator (or equivalent), or other appropriate HR personnel (e.g. local HR Officer) must attempt to contact the absent staff member as soon as it is evident that their absence is unusual, i.e. they are not just late for work. This can be done by calling their home and/or mobile numbers, as well as sending an email to their personal email account. A few attempts (normally at least three) should be made to contact the absent staff member on the first day. Enquiries should also be made to establish whether a message has been left with any colleagues within the department (including any front of house staff), in relation to the absence. Where such attempts prove unsuccessful by the end of the first day of absence at the latest, the employee’s nominated next of kin should be contacted. It may be appropriate to make contact with the next of kin earlier in the day. Departments should use their judgement in relation to the timescales for escalating action, taking into account what is known about the individual’s circumstances, for example if the individual is known to live alone or has a known health condition.

A brief file note of the efforts to contact the absent staff member and/or their next of kin should be made, to include the date, time, method and outcome, e.g. “phoned personal mobile on [date] at [time] and left a voicemail”.

If after numerous attempts, the department cannot make contact with the absent staff member or with their next of kin by the second day of absence at the latest, other known contacts should be considered to help establish that the absent staff member is safe. Where practicably possible, it may also be appropriate for someone within the department to visit the absent employee’s home. Departments should give careful consideration to who that individual should be, for example, a colleague with whom the absent staff member is close or a colleague that may live nearby might be the most appropriate nominees. If the department does not know of any other appropriate contacts for the individual, and especially if the individual has a good record of attendance, the department may consider contacting the police to report the person as missing. Prior to taking such action, the Departmental Administrator should discuss the situation with the relevant HR Business Partner.

Unplanned absence will be treated as unauthorised in cases where it is established that the individual is safe and is not incapacitated, but failed to follow the University’s usual reporting requirements, whether due to sickness or otherwise. If and when the individual returns to work, the absence must be discussed, and the reasons for the absence should be explored with them. However, failure to provide a genuine reason for not reporting absence may lead to disciplinary proceedings. Each case will need to be assessed on its merits, and before any action is taken the Departmental Administrator should discuss the case with the appropriate HR Business Partner.

Where it is established that the individual is safe but will not be returning to work the Departmental Administrator (or equivalent) should liaise with their HR Business Partner to establish the most appropriate process to follow.

 Pay and unauthorised absence

It is important to investigate each case of unauthorised absence in order to gather facts and information before considering taking any action in respect of the staff member’s pay.

If the staff member failed to follow notification and reporting procedures, and the reason for unauthorised absence was not deemed to be reasonable by the department,  the University is not obliged to pay for any days that the staff member had unauthorised absence. The department must contact the relevant HR Business Partner for advice before initiating any pay changes.

Where the department decides to withhold or not to pay the staff member for any days of their unauthorised absence, the staff member must be notified in writing in advance of any changes being made to their pay. The department should liaise with their HR Business Partners and the Payroll team in all such cases.

Unauthorised absence of sponsored migrants (Tier 2 and 5 visa holders)

The University has a responsibility to inform the Home Office if a sponsored migrant (on a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa) has unauthorised absence. If a sponsored migrant has had ten consecutive days of unauthorised absence the Staff Immigration Team must be informed without delay, using a Tier 2 & 5 Changes and Leavers form. The team will then report the unauthorised absence to the Home Office who will curtail the individual’s visa. In such cases, the individual will no longer be able to work in the UK. Tier 2 visa holders with unauthorised absence that lasts ten consecutive days or longer may be prevented by the Home Office from obtaining a new Tier 2 visa for one year. Please refer to the Staff Immigration Team’s website for full guidance.