An employee doesn’t show up for work for three weeks without any explanation and without informing the employer why he/she is absent. The employer investigates the matter and comes to the conclusion that the employee has absconded and follows the correct steps to dismiss the employee. Case closed right?
However, the matter is not closed yet. The employer must still pay the employee what is owed to him before the case can be closed. Just because an employee absconds does not mean that the employer does not have to pay him.
An employer must pay an employee any amounts due to him. This includes his monthly salary, any incentives or bonuses he would have otherwise received, outstanding leave pay, overtime pay, etc., although in terms of labour law, the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ applies to a period of unauthorised absence. This means the employer do not have to remunerate the employee for the time he was not at work, the employer needs to make all outstanding statutory payments owed to the employee.
However, what happens if the absconding employee owes the employer money?
When an employer makes the calculation, any unpaid staff, education or other company loans or advances that were made to the employee before he deserted, must be taken into account. It must be noted that an employer can only do this if the employee gave permission in writing.
For any other amounts that the employee owes the employer, a civil claim must be instituted by the employer to recover these. It cannot be set off against the amounts the employer owes the employee. From a practical point of view, it would be better for an employer to write off the debt. The chances of recovering the money are slim considering that the former employee must first be located in order to bring a civil claim against him in the Small Claims Court if the amount is under R12,000 or the Magistrates’ Court. Even if the employer manages to get a judgement against the employee, there may be little or no satisfaction in enforcing execution due to the employee’s lack of assets.
It is therefore important to deal with cases of abscondment effectively.