Most employees are under the impression that absenteeism relates only to staying away from the place of work without permission. It is time to relook this phenomenon. Absenteeism in its simplest form means absent/not present. The Law.Com Dictionary defines absenteeism as ‘an employee who is regularly late or fails to show for work’. There are many reasons why you might not be present at your work station or place of work.
The reality is that the meaning of absenteeism has, over the years, been developed through the courts to include conduct such as arriving late for work, leaving the workplace early, poor time keeping, extended tea/lunch/comfort breaks, attending to private business during your contractual working hours i.e. private e-mails or attending to research for a child’s assignment at work, unnecessary visits to medical practitioners or clinics, staying away from work without permission or a valid reason.
Duty of Good Faith
In 2019 the Constitutional Court in NUMSA obo Nganezi & Others v Dunlop Mixing and Technical Services (Pty) Ltd & Others  9 BLLR 865 (CC) deliberated on the nature and scope of the duty of good faith that is implied in the contract of employment. Interesting enough the court held that the principles of Ubuntu must be infused into the employment contract. Ubuntu ‘refers to behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community’.
When you stop and think or ponder the above, you will most probably reach the same conclusion, namely that your duty of good faith towards you employer, and vice versa, must be such that it benefits the workplace, co-workers, management and yourself.
The Labour Court in Classic Number Trading 80 (Pty) Ltd t/a Nashua Tshwane v Shaik-Ahmed and Others  71 (LC) found that the conduct of a supervisor who has been absent without permission for a period of 16 days was ‘totally indifferent to the interest of the employer, and in the circumstances it was unreasonable to expect the employer to keep the employee in its employ when he has little regard to its operational interest…’ The dismissal of Shaik-Ahmed was held to be fair as the ‘absence was excessive and thus required frank and proper justifications…’ In this instance, alleged illness or an underlying condition did not overturn the dismissal, as the reports from Medical Practitioners did not show that Shaik-Ahmed was booked off from work as a result thereof. To add insult to injury, Shaik-Ahmed did not once attempt to engage or communicate with his employer during the 16 days of absenteeism.
There is a positive duty on an employee to inform management, as soon as reasonably possible, of any reasons for the absenteeism and its likely duration. That includes being late for work, a need to leave early, extended lunch or tea times or not attending work at all.
The entitlement to sick leave does not absolve an employee of the duty to inform management, in line with the employer’s policies, as soon as reasonably viable. In Mgobhozi v Naidoo NO & others  3 BLLR 242 (LAC), the court reiterated that when abuse of sick leave is expected and it results in prolonged absenteeism, the court is entitled to question such a medical certificate. Medical Certificates does not by default condone long periods of absenteeism.
Boredom – No Defence for Absenteeism
In another dispute at Labour Court, South African Police Service v Adendorf and Others (C659-2015)  ZALCCT 47 (11 October 2017), Adendorf’s defence for excessive absenteeism from his work post was ‘he had been transferred to a new section within the Parliamentary Police Service in early 2012. This posting required that he stand at a particular post for the whole day, and that he really struggled to stand at this post for prolonged periods of time due to boredom. He stated that he would initially attempt to stay at his post, but that over time, he found it too boring and would wander from his post…’ (Own Emphasis)
This was not his only defence, one other defence was that he was sick! A defence that again proved to be futile as there was no evidence to substantiate the claim of sickness as reason for continued absenteeism from his work post.
Dismissal – Not overnight, but the end result!
Unauthorised absenteeism will probably not result in a dismissal for a first offence. The Kievits Kroon Country Estate (Pty) Ltd v CCMA & Others (2011) 32 ILJ 923 (LC) the Labour Court, in assessing the fairness of dismissal for absenteeism, held that several factors should be taken into consideration, including a reasonable explanation. Further to this other factors that should be considered will be the length of the absenteeism, nature of the employee’s job, previous warnings and whether the employee attempted to contact the employer during his/her absenteeism or not.
For your employer to justify dismissal, evidence must show that the absenteeism was for an unreasonable duration and frequently enough to disrupt the company’s work flow.
Late coming/early leaving, wandering from your workstation or staying away from work for no justifiable reason and not informing your employer, is a dangerous place to be. It is very important to stay clear of unnecessary absenteeism as it can have a serious effect on the employer-employee relationship and can lead to serious disciplinary action and even dismissal.
Do not fall in the trap of putting your head in the sand like an ostrich, it may cost you your employment! Face your fears! Address the underlying issue making you stay away from work or from your workplace!
MISA is only a phone call or an e-mail away!
Kindly utilise the following e-mail addresses and links for assistance during this time:
Legal/Labour-related enquiries Legal@ms.org.za
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