when an employee stops coming to work, do we have to formally fire them?

A reader writes:

I’m the only HR person in a high turnover construction-related business. Prior to me, the supervisors handled (or didn’t, is more like it) all their hiring and firing themselves. We often have people quit showing up for work, and in the past supervisors would just never contact them with their next report time/location rather than explicitly fire them. They would also ignore any phone calls if the person tried to reach them. The phrase they’ve used with me is “we kind of let them…go away.”

I don’t like the idea of leaving someone hanging there without a clear termination, so I’ve been making phone calls to these individuals to let them know we are letting them go. Is there a better way to handle this?

I’ve sent a letter a few times, but that delays the news by a couple days and I’m concerned about someone trying to come back after they’ve abandoned the job (it’s happened–they pretend like they were never gone) and I’d rather tell them immediately that we are letting them go than risk them showing up again, especially showing up on a jobsite where we would be liable if they present themselves as our employee and we haven’t formally terminated that employment. Do you have any other ideas? Or is a phone call the best answer in these situations?

I understand that in a business where no-shows are common, it’s easy to assume the person peaced out, but one day one of those people is going to have been a no-show because they’re in a hospital bed somewhere or something else has gone terribly wrong.

So yes, you should call. If you don’t reach them, leave a message saying, “You didn’t show up for work today. We hope everything is okay. Please get in touch with us as soon as possible. If we don’t hear from you by X, we’ll assume you’re not returning.” Then, if you don’t hear from them by X, make another call confirming that you’re terminating their employment. (You can also follow this up with a letter if you want to, although I tend to think simply documenting the phone calls is sufficient.)

If you’re worried this policy will open the door to people no-showing but then calling you later to save their jobs, there’s no requirement that you take them back at that point. But at least this will allow you to make an exception if it does turn out that someone was hit by a bus or something.

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    A simple policy of x number of no call no shows is considered voluntary resignation is easier. Then when you call you have the option of letting them return or saying “we have accepted your voluntary resignation. Your last paycheck should be expected by x.”

      1. unknown*

        Hi i have a question.our shift starts at 6:30 am. i was absent for 3 consecutive days. i sent a text message to my supervisor that i will be late around 6 am because i’m waiting for my son’s nanny.my son has cold and cough that time. Unfortunately on the same day our electricity got disconnected due to unpaid bill.next day i notify my supervisor and operations manager that i cannot report to work because i need to look for money to settle our bill.gladly i was able to get money to settle the bill and so i was able i bring my son to the doctor. Friday i was not able to send them message because i was so tired and worried and cant think properly because the doctor said that it could be pneumonia.But he gave prescribe an antibiotic and said that if after 2 days he still got fever then we might need to bring my son to the hospital. so Saturday i was surprised to received a letter which is a return to work order/rtwo. i believe rtwo should be sent out on the third day that u are out and it should be ncns. and should be 2 consecutive days. but on my case i sent the text messages meaning i notify them. monday is our payday. then f**k they put it on hold. (t’s possible that the absence is completely legitimate. For example, your employee’s absence may be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act if it’s for a medical condition )i have documents.i have my son’s medical certificate. i need an advice please before i make any necessary action

        1. kalli*

          Have you shown your work a copy of your son’s medical certificate? Does it cover all the days you were/will be out? Does yoyr work have a written policy about leave for family illness that you can refer to for guidance on how it’s handled in your workplace? You should be able to access FMLA/sick leave, but you should make sure they have medical documentation asap if they require it (and since it’s a few days, they likely will), and stay in touch – even if you’re tired.
          You are owed for days you worked in that pay period, so holding your pay isn’t exactly a great move by them, and you should ask for what you’re owed.
          I hope your son improves. Good luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I think the issue is just that they want to do it after a single no-call no-show (which is totally reasonable), but I’m not crazy about calling someone who might have just been hit by a car and saying, “We’re accepting your voluntary resignation.” That’s why I think it gets more complicated.

    2. OP*

      We do have that policy. However, our supervisors give their reports the following day’s job info either in person at the end of a workday or by phone in the evening. Our supervisors were just not giving any additional info to people who failed to show up once. Therefore, they weren’t really getting to the “3 no-call, no-show” threshold because they weren’t told to report anywhere. Basically, the supervisors would just quit communicating with them. For some folks, they took that to mean they hadn’t really missed any more than one day because “Bob never told me to be anywhere again.”

      It’s just semantics, really, but the point is, having that “simple policy” as you put it doesn’t solve everything, so I wanted AAM’s perspective to make sure I wasn’t overlooking a major landmine in choosing to call these people instead of continue to ignore them like the supervisors want to do.

      1. Joey*


        Sounds like your supervisors are wimps when it comes to firing. Why not push that issue instead of resigning to do it for them? I know it’s easy to push things onto HR, but if they don’t have the courage to tell someone they’re fired they really shouldn’t be supervising.

      2. Joey*

        the other part I think is key here is your company’s failure to document the reason for not allowing them to return. Sure it’s not required by law, but if supervisors don’t tell you how do you know it’s not an illegal reason. Frequently the absence of a reason while not conclusive is highly suspicious from a legal standpoint.

        1. MK*

          We are talking about someone who didn’t show up for work and didn’t bother to call and say they wouldn’t come. That’s not absence of a reason, that’s a self-evident reason.

          1. Judy*

            OP says there is a policy of 3 NC/NS to be fired, yet after the first NC/NS, the employee is not told if they are needed for another shift. Are there any more NC/NSs if they are never told to show again? It was stated that the supervisors were not even returning calls when someone tried to contact them.

            Especially if different groups got different treatment, that could possibly leave an opening to suspicion.

        2. jordanjay29*

          “Sure it’s not required by law, but if supervisors don’t tell you how do you know it’s not an illegal reason.”

          That’s for the courts to determine if someone thinks there’s a possibility that it was illegal.

          1. Zillah*

            I think Joey’s point is that the courts are a headache you don’t need in the first place, not that the courts wouldn’t eventually find in the employer’s favor in this situation.

            1. Joey*

              Sort of. My point is more that absent a reason you have no idea if those employees are being terminated for illegal reasons. In other words its super risky to let supervisors fire someone with complete disregard for company policy and without documenting the reason.

      3. Liz T*

        Well you can still not call them in for the next day, as you’ve been doing, but try to get in touch before you decide you’re NEVER going to call them in. Not because you have to give second chances, but, as AAM says, to make sure no one got hit by a bus.

        1. Zillah*

          Or, hell – just got the wrong information. If this information is often just communicated verbally, I can see someone mispeaking or mishearing, especially at the end of a workday. I’m not saying I think it’s super common, but I doubt it’s unheard of.

      4. Kelly O*

        Totally understand where you’re going with this. I’ve seen managers try to use that as a way to get rid of folks they wanted off the roster too.

        But they HAVE to communicate that schedule. We would chase down managers for rosters for a week, then wonder why the holy hand grenade no one was clocking correctly. Turns out the manager wasn’t telling people the schedule, so they didn’t know their hours changed, and then they’d get a write-up/verbal for being late or not working the schedule. The manager would claim they’d told them the revised schedule, but when more than half your team seems to very sincerely not understand why they can’t clock, it’s a bigger problem.

        The other thing we had was making sure managers followed up on the No-Call/No Show policy. Ours was three days consecutive, then a contact by phone. If no phone contact, then a letter went out, and then certified mail… we actually DID find an employee who had gotten quite ill, and his spouse did not speak English well enough to feel comfortable calling the office, so she just didn’t call (which was bad on her part) but the spouse was genuinely unable to communicate.

        Thank heavens we sent that letter to the home, because a teen-aged child saw it, called the office, and explained what was going on. We had a week basically to figure out he was very ill. HR was then able to get him on the appropriate leave and help the family with what they needed. But if someone had just terminated or “let it go away” after the first day, who knows what could have happened?

        The other thing is to make sure it’s across the board and perceived as fairly as possibly. It’s really hard to enforce when management clearly plays favorites, and people keep getting re-hired after being termed for NC/NS. Plus it makes your local HR/Payroll look like a bunch of bumbling idiots.

        I’ll just climb off my soapbox now. Excuse me.

      5. frequentflyer*

        You really need to have a policy to determine when a person should be terminated after how many consecutive days of no-show, etc. I’m not sure about your company, but I’ve encountered cases where the line managers don’t update HR, and due to timing differences/late updates, salary payments were made to no-show employees even for days they didn’t show up, and once the payments are made, it’s pretty impossible to claw them back. The amount of $$ involved can get pretty substantial in industries that rely very much on labour, and the loophole gets spread through word of mouth.

  2. HR Manager*

    We (in MA) have to make it official as far as I know (to be able to send out a termination letter, COBRA information, etc.). We do have a job abandonment policy, where if the employee doesn’t show up and doesn’t respond to calls within x number of days, we move to terminate.

    I would never leave things hanging, because it is important in my opinion to be clear on what happens. When do their benefits end, what options do they have for unemployment, etc. Even if an employee isn’t asking those questions, I prefer to leave them armed with all the relevant information.

    In job abandonment, we call and then send a letter with the request to contact us immediately by xx date. If no contact, we will terminate. We then send a final letter (and email if we have that) with the confirmation of the termination date and status change.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t believe there’s any government-dictated official termination procedure, though. You do whatever you need to do to consider them “terminated” in your own systems, but MA doesn’t say you have to give them X amount of time, you have to send them a letter with Y info, you have to report it to Z agency in the state and then they’re considered fired. In most cases you can do that without having to speak to the employee.

      1. HR Manager*

        Not with the procedures. I was merely referring to the letter. I tried to look up online, and some sites even say the letter is not required, but info on filing for unemployment in MA is.

      2. Kelly O*

        Every state is different. Some states require you show proof attempts were made to contact. (That’s why our last step was certified letter.)

        We often go over and above state required policies, because many of our operational people are in California, and insist we do it “their” way “to be sure.”

  3. M*

    Um… This is more like they stop coming because their supervisor won’t tell them when they’re expected. To me, this isn’t no call/no show, this is the company allowing it’s supervisors to be jerks. If they’re fired, they’re fired and you need to let them know that; without a formal termination, they may not be able to qualify for unemployment or it could make it harder to establish when the qualified. Not cool OP’s company, not cool.

    1. OP*

      I agree. :) Working on that! The first step was getting them to even let me know when it happened so I could make the phone call. The payroll person tells me he used to have to follow up with supervisors: “So, um, I haven’t had any hours posted for Lukas in the last 2 weeks–is he taking time off or does he no longer work here? Fired or resigned? Eligible for rehire?” He tells me it was like pulling teeth to get those answers.

      1. OhNo*

        Wow, what a PITA. It sounds like you might need to have a sit-down with the supervisors about appropriate procedure, because this sounds like the supervisors are just arbitrarily deciding who they do and don’t want to work with.

        I don’t know anything about law, but that seems like a potential minefield for discrimination suits if any of the fired-but-not-really employees ever threw a fit.

        1. Student*

          Sounds to me like they should just fire all these managers and hire people who are capable of actually managing. I know it’s not going to happen. But this seems like the literally most basic function of a supervisor. Deal with the presence and absence of employees. If they can’t manage to notify their own company and their employees of a firing, what exactly do they do that makes them worthwhile to keep on staff?

    2. Sadsack*

      My understanding is that employees didn’t appear at their scheduled day/time to work, so then the supervisors didn’t bother calling to give them their new schedules.

  4. Apollo Warbucks*

    I’ve seen employee handbooks in places I used to work, that contain details about what constitutes abandonment of the position if it’s at much of a proble where you work then it might be worth setting out a policy to deal with it.

    1. OP*

      Yup, we’ve got a basic, standard policy. But you would not believe how many ways there are to actually abandon the job! I could give you 15 different things I’ve seen–and I’ve only been here 4 months! So I really needed to know if the phone call is okay in these situations; if so, how to do it and if not, what to do instead.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    What? Am I the only one who would be concerned that my employees are dead and being eaten by their cats?

    Does anyone even contact their emergency contact to try to get in touch? I’d like to have positive confirmation that the person is alive/well before firing them.

    1. Sadsack*

      Seriously, I have told my coworkers that if I ever just don’t show up one day, it is likely because my cat caused me to trip and fall down the stairs.

      1. HR Manager*

        Very good idea. One of my cats in particular loves to fly down the stairs and then cut in front of my quickly midway. I swear he will be the reason I break a bone some day.

        1. Alter_ego*

          Our dog will not use the stairs unless a human walks down with him. He will sit at the top or bottom of the stairs, and whine until someone comes to use the stairs with him, and he won’t take his first step until you do. These are very narrow stairs (house was built in 1900), and I’m pretty positive that sharing them with the dog all the time is going to result in someone ending up in the hospital eventually

          1. HR Manager*

            That sounds adorable. Annoying probably when you have to do it the 235th time, but sooo adorable.

            1. Alter_ego*

              The worst is that even after a year, your instinct is still to wait for him to go onto the stairs first. So we stand there in this limbo for about a minute every single time, with him waiting for me to go, and me waiting for him. And since he’s a dog, I’m not actually allowed to strangle him for it.

          2. Melissa*

            I don’t know what it is about dogs and stairs, but most of the dogs I’ve had do that too. I live in an apartment but I’m on the third floor and when I take my dog out, she won’t go down the stairs unless I start – but once I do, she goes racing down the stairs. And on top of that, she sometimes doesn’t take the logical side (she’ll cross behind me or in front of me). One day she’s going to trip me with the leash down the stairs.

            My mom’s dog was like that too – she didn’t want to take a step up or down until you did, but then she would race you. Especially if you had food and were coming up the stairs, because then she could stand at the top of the staircase and smell it.

            1. A Non*

              Yes, I’ve seen it too. Maybe stairs are difficult to take at any speed but a run if you have four legs, but that makes them slightly scary so they want to make sure you start first?

              I knew someone who handled that issue by making the dog wait at the top of the stairs until she was all the way down. The dog wasn’t the biggest fan of it, but the owner felt much better not having a 60 lb dog barreling into the back of her knees every time she went downstairs.

              1. Revanche*

                I actually do that now with our 90+ lber: he’s told to either wait at the top or the bottom, and then I tell him to COME or GO and he plows his way up or down the stairs with reckless abandon.

                He tries to be a little more careful when I’m walking next to him but he still can’t contain himself enough for it to be safe for us to go together. One of these days I’m going to forget and tell him to go while still wearing his leash crossbody.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          The only bone I’ve broken was an ankle, when I didn’t step on my cat. Not stepping on your cat can be dangerous, too.

      2. fposte*

        The CDC did a whole study on this–over 80k folks a year with pet-related falls (it sounds like they included pet avoidance, because a hit was based on mentioning the pet in the narrative at all). Dogs are actually more dangerous than cats. (Or cats are more likely to be swiftly fatal and remove their name from the record.)

        1. Windchime*

          Years ago, I sustained a really bad ankle sprain from my dog running up behind me and knocking my legs out from under me. I was on crutches for about a week.

          So far, I’ve managed to not trip on the cat as he’s running down the stairs in front of me. It’s a miracle, though, because he often likes to sleep on the stairs in the middle of the night.

          1. JayDee*

            Our dog goes down with us, but thankfully the stairs are wide and she’s of the “you start and I’ll squeeze past and be fast” variety so we just take one step, pause to let her pass, and then continue walking. The cat, on the other hand prefers the “go down x steps and stop in the middle of the step” plan, where x is a random number between 1 and 4. The odds that I will be found dead at the bottom of my stairs in a heap with a basket of dirty laundry and a cat is very, very high.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              My cats do that too. The stairs down to the laundry area are steep and narrow, and when I’m carrying a laundry basket in front of me I can’t see my feet at all. I think “cat paused on stairs” is probably my most likely cause of death at this stage of my life.

        2. Melissa*

          Huh, that’s so interesting! Not surprised that dogs are more dangerous than cats. Probably a lot are from big dogs jumping on people. I am trying to teach my puppy not to jump (she’s 56 pounds) but it doesn’t help that all the dog lovers she meets are like “No, it’s okay! I love dogs!” while they pet her vigorously.

        3. Kelly L.*

          I had several ankle sprains over the years from overly enthusiastic dog, plus a fall where I hit my head and could have been hurt but luckily wasn’t. Furry menaces, they are. ;)

    2. Allison*

      Right? I’d think an employer would call someone an hour or so into their shift to see what’s up. There’s a number of things that could be wrong, and a number of reasons someone might not show up to work beyond just quitting or playing hooky. OP’s employer is a tad unreasonable.

      1. Chinook*

        Best reason I ever heard for not showing up to work – hit a moose and decided to not waste the meat so they stopped to skin it (it was pre-cellphone). They did offer to donate the hide to their employer, which was the local historical site, though.

    3. OP*

      Actually, that kind of was a concern with one. One of our owners went in person to the guy’s home. He wouldn’t answer the phone and he had some health problems, so owner was worried. He pretty much looked around the curtain and wouldn’t answer. Owner decided he wasn’t dead and it wasn’t worth calling the sheriff. Turns out the guy knew he had failed a routing drug test he’d had to take the day before. We didn’t have the results back yet so we didn’t know what was up.

      1. Judy*

        I worked at a place that twice in one year an employee didn’t show up for a shift, the manager tried to call, and then called the police for a welfare check. Both times the employee was dead. (Once it was carbon monoxide and the employee and her husband were dead.) I kinda get paranoid about that now.

        To be honest, it was a location that had nearly 800 employees, but what are the odds?

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          At one of my old places, we had an alcoholic coworker who frequently didn’t turn up or call. Our manager did nothing about it and just accepted her increasingly implausible excuses when she did turn up. One day, she hadn’t turned up for a while and a family member called the office, saying none of the family had been able to reach her and had she been coming into work? In the end our manager did get hold of her and apparently she was going through cold turkey and didn’t want her family to see her like that. But it shouldn’t have got to that stage.

      1. Mephyle*

        I don’t think “deserving” is the most useful criterion here. Even a flaky employee could turn out to be dead, and why should the employer deny themselves that knowledge in a timely fashion. Pursuit of the truth should be the standard, not whether the employee deserves to be followed up on or not.

    4. fposte*

      I think that’s also really dependent on industry culture. There are some jobs with such a high proportion of no call/no shows that you’d just note the missing by head count and others where it would shut the place down with shock.

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      I forgot to put one work appointment on my shared calendar one morning. My receptionist knew that my husband was out of town and got really worried when I “no-showed” that something bad had happened to me and no one was around to know I was missing but her. Luckily my boss knew where I was and told her before she called the police. She had called my cell and since I was with a client I had my phone silenced and hadn’t seen it for three hours. I was very grateful for the concern.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        One year, I emailed my manager asking for the whole week of Thanksgiving off, which is how we were supposed to request time off. He said yes, so I booked my plane tickets. On Monday, he called me as I was boarding the plane and asked where I was. Boy, was I happy there was a “paper trail” that I had asked for the time and had it approved.

        1. Weasel007*

          In October this year I was scheduled to go to beach with my family. Two days before I was to leave, but still working, I came down with the flu. The wanna die please put me out of my misery flu. It hit me so hard and so fast on an overnight deployment call that I was barely able to hand the call over to one of our offshore managers. I emailed my manager over the weekend, mainly because I was afraid I had exposed him and my coworkers to the worst flu ever. On Wednesday I got a im “you going to be out a few more days?” I replied “ummm…..I was scheduled for vacation all week but am still very sick. Am I expected in on my vacation?” He was quite embarrased. Thank goodness I had my entry on the vacation calendar. I used my vacation days for sick days!

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I request my employees do it in writing too – more so I can look it up if they’re a no show before I call and embarrass myself – because that’s totally happened. “Katie, don’t you remember I told you I’d be out?” Oops.

    6. dawbs*

      “If you’re over a reasonable amount late, I will use the information you gave us and I will call to make sure you’re not dead in a ditch. Please note that moms freak out when I do this, so call me if you’re going to miss a day” <Thing I actually say to new hires.

      And the last time I called someone's mom, the mom (who I know) freaked out because the employee had left and should have arrived. We were dealing with calls to the police and getting someone out to drive the route and look for his car when we heard from him–his car had died, his cell had died, he had walked several miles to get to a phone and was mildly annoyed to have 3 million "hey, are you OK dude?" messages on his phone. (But his mom was glad we had called, because we were heading off what *could * have been a serious issue)

      1. the gold digger*

        Yes! We had a high-school intern from the vo-ed program who just didn’t show up one day. We were frantic. Called the school and got them to call his mom. Nobody knew where he was and we were so worried.

        He finally rolled in two hours late and said that there had been traffic. He couldn’t call because his cellphone was dead.

        “Have you HEARD of a payphone?”I demanded – and then realized that no, he probably had not.

        1. tt*

          And good luck finding a functioning pay phone these days, the last few I’ve seen (rare enough) didn’t work anyway.

        2. Liz T*

          Also, even if I found a pay phone, I’m so dependent on my cell that I wouldn’t know my employer’s number.

          (This happened to me a few months ago. For work I commute from Brooklyn to various places on Long Island, and one Wednesday I stupidly got on the train for my Thursday site. Phone: left at home. I had my iPad but no WiFi so I couldn’t find my supervisor’s number. I did have my Thursday supervisor’s number in an already-loaded email, though. A really nice lady let me use her phone to call my Thursday boss, asking HIM to call my Wednesday boss and explain my situation. Then, since I usually got a pick-up from the train, I didn’t know the actual address of my site, and had to look it up on my (deeply unpleasant) cab driver’s phone. It was…absurd.)

          1. Zillah*

            That sounds like a massive headache! My sympathies.

            When my partner lived in Westchester, I would have to call him to come pick me up at the station whenever I visited. I memorized his number the first time I went up there, just in case my phone died or broke or something, because I did not want to be stuck there. I never needed it, but I do still know his phone number!

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        My aunt once got a call like this to say my cousin hadn’t turned up to work that day. She had set off, so my aunt panicked, my uncle rushed home from work, turned out my cousin was there all along and it was someone with the same first name who hadn’t turned up.

        The same aunt panicked about my other cousin who was working in London at the time of the 7/7 bombings, tried calling him, eventually reached his office but he wasn’t at his desk and whoever took the call said he was “around somewhere”. This person didn’t tell my cousin about the call, so about two hours later he rang home asking why no one had called to see if he was okay.

    7. Koko*

      I think about this more often than I care to admit. I live alone and I’m deeply introverted, so I leave several nights each week where I won’t make plans with anyone, and all my friends know I’m bad about replying to texts/calls when I get busy with work. Sometimes when I’m waiting for the train I wonder, if I fell on the tracks right now, how long would it take people to piece together that something happened to me? Would my friends just assume I was busy with work and that I’d surface eventually? Would work think something had happened that had caused me to just abandon the job?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Many decades ago, my father lived in a very rural area. It came on the news that there was an escaped convict in his area. He told the people at work, “If I don’t show up, call the police.”
        Fortunately, nothing happened.
        In another case, I had an uncle who was friends with a neighbor who lived alone, also. They had a deal where they took turns calling each other every night. If one could not reach the other, then the police would be called.
        I think you could look into doing similar things. There is probably someone near you who feels the same as you do.

        1. Maris*

          Actually – the Red Cross has a service where they do daily “check in” calls with elderly/disabled folks who live alone. If they don’t answer, the RC calls the police.

    8. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Oh my god – yes we always call people who don’t show up! This isn’t the kind of workplace where people just stop coming to work, but it’s happened about a half-dozen times over the years, and all but one was a legitimate medical emergency (the other was a person who used to work somewhere that people just didn’t bother showing up sometimes). I’m even faster to call employees who live alone – I want them to know that we DO notice and care if they disappear! We do have really flexible scheduling, so I don’t worry about 2 or 3 hours, but past a 1/2 day, I will call.

    9. Chinook*

      “Does anyone even contact their emergency contact to try to get in touch? I’d like to have positive confirmation that the person is alive/well before firing them.”

      I have insisted HR do it when a coworker who diabetes and lived alone was a no call/no show. I pointed out that she could have had a medical issue and, with no one else in her home, no one would know if she was in a cmoa for days. So HR called her emergency contact (I refused since I wasn’t her supervisor) and her mom called her and was able to verify that she was alive but sick enough to sleep through her alarm and phone.

      I have also done this with mature high school students who are no call/no show for class. One guy was ticked because he decided to skip and visit his brother in the next time and he was an adult,, blah, blah, blah. he then got an earful about how he could be lieing in a ditch and no one would think to look for him if we didn’t and then the true story of a friend who went missing for a week before anyone noticed he was missing and was never found.

      1. king*

        We had someone not show up who was diabetic. I called and he said he was ill and his voice was slurry. He said he was okay and not to worry. He didn’t call or show up the next day. We called and then sent an employee out with a police officer for a wellness check and they found him dead. I will always wonder if I should have not believed him when he said he was okay and he didn’t need help. Others called him that day to express concern and I think it will always niggle at us.

        1. SanityAssassin*

          You did a great thing to call and you have to leave it to the individual to make the choice in a situation like this, where all you have is a brief phone conversation. I’m so so sorry you had to go through this.

    10. ExceptionToTheRule*

      That’s exactly how they found my father dead of a stroke. He lived alone and we’re pretty sure he’d been dead for about 48 hours when they found him. Fortunately no cats.

      1. Melissa*

        This is how we found my grandfather dead, too (unclear how he died; think it was liver cirrhosis that led to total organ failure). No cats, but he had been dead for at least a day or two before anyone found him.

    11. Anon Accountant*

      I don’t have direct reports but have insisted and would insist again that a nc/ns have their emergency contact called if the employee wasn’t answering their phone and no one heard from them. You never know when someone is seriously sick or is lying on the floor, unable to get to a phone for help.

      1. Melissa*

        I had direct reports in one position and had an employee no-show for the last day of work, which was the most important day of the academic year for our job (move-out). I called and called her, I went to her room and knocked and knocked (res life position) and I was worried because I knew she had a history of mental illness but was very reluctant to get help. Called friends, no one had seen her. Turns out she had partied the night before (she graduated) and had a hangover, so she was sleeping in her room right through work – and through my repeated knocking.

    12. Armchair Analyst*

      I worked as a preschool teacher and I liked to call even if the kid was 10-15 minutes late because who knew if the kid fell asleep in the carseat and the parent forgot them and oh gd we’d see it on the local news… CYA is a perfectly good reason.

      1. Lizzie*

        Yup. Our school policy is that we have to report absence to the office by 8:10 so that they can call home by 8:25 (30 min after the start of school) if a student doesn’t show up in class.

    13. Kate*

      Agree. We once had an employee not answer the phone or show up for almost a week. He was older and in poor health so I called the police in his town and they did a welfare check but they couldn’t find him. He showed up a few days later and it turns out he had been in jail.

    14. aebhel*


      Several years ago, my uncle passed away unexpectedly of a sudden heart attack. When he didn’t show up for work or respond to phone calls, his manager actually drove out to his house and that’s how she found him. I’m not saying that this should be the expectation (it was a very small company and he was an extremely reliable employee), but he lived several states away from the rest of the family, had no significant other or close friends in the area, and the idea of how long he could have been lying there in his house if she hadn’t gone to check is…well, retrospectively pretty horrifying.

  6. Ashley*

    my last job we dealt with a lot of job abandoment cases. We always called after two no call/no shows and left a message that said “I am calling to follow up on your absences on DATE and DATE. As you know, our company policy states that two no call/no shows is considered a resignation with no notice. If you have an excuse or cause for your absence, please contact us by DATE (we usually gave two business days)”.

    That was it. It is definitely important to do this – we actually discovered an employee passed away while at home alone because of our follow ups (it was someone who was PT and NEVER missed work. After she didn’t come in two days in a row we called the police who found her body – she had passed away over the weekend from a heart attack).

    If it’s a more sensitive case, we would also send a certified letter with return service requested with the above information.

  7. puddin*

    I think there also a core issue here that the work assignments are being communicated in a non-conformist way. Is there a better way than in person and on the phone? It sounds haphazard to me. Can you create an online calendar or email in/call in calendar so that people who want to work are tallied as ‘available’? Then make the communications about the next day’s work after you get all the results. It sounds like if you miss a day of work, or are in the restroom when assignments are handed out you are de facto out of a job as far as the supervisor is concerned. This probably adds to the fired/fired confusion on both ends and with a more regimented approach, you might get less turnover.

    1. Chriama*

      I think the issue is with construction you may be dealing with a lot of people who don’t have that kind of access to technology. It sounds like this work is handed out as it occurs: you show up at work, and at the end of the day you find out if there’s work tomorrow or not. In that kind of situation — and with such a transient/fluctuating workforce — I don’t think that system will work.

      1. OhNo*

        That’s what I was thinking, too.

        But that’s not to say that there aren’t other, low-tech options for taking the supervisors out of the equation (since they seem to be the main source of the problem). Perhaps having one or two schedulers whose sole job it is to call people about their assignments for the next day? Perhaps employees have to call in to the office, and when they do they are told if they are working, and given details? I don’t know if either of those would work, but it does sound like the current system has some glitches.

      2. OP*

        You got it. But, I am currently working on a spreadsheet that I will keep up-to-date with each employee and what certifications/licenses they have so that the supervisors can fight over who they want to put on each job. I think that will be the appropriate low-tech approach.

        “Haphazard” as puddin suspects above is exactly the right description. This is partly because the business grew faster than anyone knew what to do with and partly because the supervisors were never trained in anything supervisor-y-ish. We all know good supervisory skills come naturally to VERY, VERY few people! So that’s a whole ‘nother problem I’m working on–getting the supervisors trained to actually manage.

      3. puddin*

        Excellent point, and I did think of that…glad to see the OP has a solution that meets the scheduling needs without expecting tech the employees might not have access to.


    2. Ife*

      Agreed, but I think this is somewhat standard for the construction industry. At least in my boyfriend’s experience, the past three construction companies he’s worked for all handled assignments this way. Jeeze, some days they would call him at 5 AM to tell him where he needed to be at 7:00 that morning. It is a convoluted system though!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. I have seen employees walk off the job and then be brought back the next day/week. That is the way the industry is. Some of it is because of skill set. If you need someone who is an excellent stone mason, then you need them. The work has to get done somehow and this might involve ignoring the last five times the person walked off the job. Other times, there is absolutely no one else to do the work, even though it is basic labor. You can’t take a $30 an hour worker and put him on a $15/hr job. So you take back the guy that flipped you off yesterday. I knew of one instance where a boss would go way out of his way to pick up his employee. The employee was very good at his job, but he had also lost his driver’s license and could no longer drive.

        These things are more complex than they look.

  8. Raine*

    The aspect I’m not sure about is the firing as opposed to underscoring that these are cases of job abandonment — won’t the employer be on the hook for (and an easy target for) paying out all sorts of unemployment claims if you use the firing language? I mean, legally. I worked a lot of service-type jobs and never ever ever did they pretend that they were firing a person who was a no-call no-show, but they were ruthless about what it meant.

    1. Joey*

      Yeah potentially folks would be eligible for unemployment if they fire after 1 no call no show when the policy says it happens after 3.

      But if the fired employees haven’t worked long enough for the construction co the previous employer is usually charged

  9. Kay*

    It is also just the kind thing to do to let people know if they were being let go. My very first job right when I turned 16 was for a retail store as seasonal help during the holidays. I worked there for probably 6 weeks and then called in to get hours for probably a month or two afterwards and they just stopped putting me on the schedule. It would have been easier for everyone if they had just told me, “Hey, we’re sorry, but the holidays are over, and we have to reduce staff.”

  10. Camster*

    “They would also ignore any phone calls if the person tried to reach them.”

    Whoa! So an employee could have missed work for a day because their house burned down or something, they wouldn’t get the next day’s assignment so had no knowledge where to show up and when they tried to call in, the supervisors ignored the calls? Definitely a problem with the supervisors! I agree with the others that some procedure needs to be developed there! Kudos to you, OP, for trying to do something constructive about this!

    1. azvlr*

      Camster, I’m surprised that no one else picked up on this and glad I read down the page before I posted the exact same thing.

      If there is a written 3NC/NS policy and someone doesn’t/cannot call in one day, they are essentially fired because the supervisors won’t speak to them again. Am I interpreting this correctly? I would be concerned that this becomes a legal loophole for someone to exploit. So these supervisors are doing a potential disservice to the company in addition to what they are already doing to the employees.

  11. Paisley*

    We dealt with this a lot at my last job (call center). After three days no call/no show we’d call them. If they didn’t answer we’d send a letter asking them to please call us within 10 days otherwise they’d be let go. If we didn’t hear back within 10 days we’d call again, and if we still didn’t reach them we’d send another letter saying we accepted their silence as a resignation, and that they weren’t rehirable.

    It seems like overkill but we had many people who thought they had scheduled vacation, thought their schedule changed, assumed FMLA was automatic, changed their phone number, etc. (It was a big call center).

  12. Raine*

    I worked in a chain restaurant. We had some new guy come in as a cook and after starting to work a regular schedule pull a no-call no-show. A good three months later he just showed up for what would have been his regular hours and started prepping food in back like he had been there all along. Most of us barely remembered his name. And it was the first time these smart-a@@ guys in back really had no words, they just looked at each other, shrugging their shoulders, not knowing what to do.

  13. LuvzALaugh*

    I handle that by sending them a letter reiterating the no call no show policy along with hte dates they violated the policy. I also include a line about how if there are circumstances they would like to be considered to please contact me immediately to discuss. If you are worried they will show up before getting the letter you, as I do, inform management that if so and so shows up please send them home and refer them to HR.

  14. Anon Accountant*

    We had an accountant who stopped showing up. He didn’t answer his phone or show up for a week. He lived alone so we assumed the worst. Our boss drove past and his car was in the driveway. The local police did a wellness check and he was alive and okay. Not ill or injured, just not showing up.

    He was fired by certified letter after the 2nd time he pulled this stunt. He never got the letter and showed up at work and was fired in person.

    1. Melissa*

      I am amused that 1) he did this twice and 2) he showed up after the second time assuming he still had a job. Why would anyone think they could just not show up and still have a job?

      1. Anon Accountant*

        It was as though he was completely shocked he would be terminated for not showing up and not calling in to say he wouldn’t be in.

        I’d love to know why anyone would think they could not show up and remain employed. He was truly stunned when he was fired.

  15. OP*

    Thank you, Alison and all commenters! This is all really helpful. I probably should have given just a few more details in the original letter — these are not only no show/no call scenarios. Every single situation has something different from all the others so it’s far more complex than just a policy can handle and honestly, it’s more complex than our supervisors (who don’t necessarily have very good people managing skills) can think to address.

    I’d been thinking about writing in for awhile, but the situation that finally prompted me to occurred last week and was more of a “showed, but left and didn’t call.” A new employee, on the job only 20 days, nearly lost us a contract when he left a jobsite. He was working independently and mentioned his leaving to the contractor on the jobsite, but didn’t call his own supervisor. The contractor called us, upset that someone left and wanted to know how soon a replacement would arrive. News to us that he’d even left.

    I called him to find out what was going on and he said he had a doctor’s appointment and didn’t know how to reach his supervisor. BS. He had called and texted his supervisor earlier in the week about another issue he had. The previous week he had left 1 hour early 2 days in a row so I told him that leaving a jobsite without notifying the supervisor is considered job abandonment, especially when combined with the instances the week before, which he had already gotten warnings for.

    On top of that, he had also just gotten a warning for picking up a hitchhiker in a company vehicle and bringing the hitchhiker (while still in the vehicle) onto a secure area of company property that is for employees only. There were so many lapses in judgement that his supervisor said he absolutely did not want him near a jobsite again, which meant we couldn’t let the rogue employee report to work and fire him at that point. Therefore, I had to let him go over the phone.

    It probably wasn’t fair to lump that in with things that fall more clearly into the no-call,no-show category (but still each have their own details to make each scenario another weird one). But I just wanted to make sure that the calling to fire wasn’t going to backfire in some way that I hadn’t thought of yet. Or if there was a better way to handle it, I wanted to know. You all have given me lots to think about and clarified that part of the problem is indeed the way the managers have been allowed to handle things in the past. I’m sure working on things, but it’s all baby steps–most of the long time people here don’t see anything wrong with the way things have been!

    1. JayDee*

      Yeah, that seems fairly distinguishable from a straight-forward no-call/no-show. If it were just his seeming obliviousness to how to request time off, then I would say to follow some form of the “verbal warning, written warning, fired” tiered discipline model. But the hitchhiker thing seems to warrant immediate termination.

  16. Dulcinea*

    Allison I just have to say (as an attorney) that documenting phone calls is no substitute for a letter . .. I am a litigator and if it’s not in writing it didn’t happen. Notes of phone calls are better than nothing but a copy of a letter is way better!

  17. Cassie*

    I don’t think our university officially has a no call, no show policy, but I think our dept should have a policy and put it in writing somewhere. There was an incident years ago where an employee’s spouse called in for extended sick leave for the employee. When the employee returned and couldn’t provide the medical docs required (because the employee wasn’t actually sick), the employee claimed that he/she wasn’t aware that the spouse had called and requested sick leave. Assuming the employee was telling the truth, if we had a 3 day nc/ns policy, it would have been a clear cut case to terminate since the employee didn’t call. Instead, we were stuck in the middle of a marital dispute, trying to figure out if the employee should face disciplinary action for not calling in or if they were lying about not knowing what the spouse said (and was misusing sick time).

    We have another situation where an employee didn’t show up for work and a coworker went to check up on her – the employee had fainted in her apartment and thankfully was rushed to the hospital in time.

  18. Ruth*

    I managed student workers for 5 years–one quit by just disappearing, but I called and left a message asking if he’d be back and it was never returned. Another went AWOL for a week but fortunately before we terminated him, we got an email that he’d been hospitalized w/a super bad infection and hadn’t been able to do phone/email/etc. In that case, because he was a student, he didn’t have anyone think to call his workplace about it.

    …the worst case I’ve seen of this was an older woman at a place I worked who didn’t show for two days. The manager happened to know her daughter and called because her mom wasn’t answering calls. Just the “hey is she in the hospital?” check and it turned out my coworker was lying dead at home of a heart attack but she lived alone and talked to her daughter a few times a week but not daily so nobody knew.

    All that to say that the call is a good plan. There can be extenuating circumstances.

  19. SanityAssassin*

    I have been waiting years for the appropriate place to tell this story!

    My old boss used to sit next to a man (an excon in his own right), who would go gambling, drinking, what have you, and disappear for a few days. Andy always came back. Once, after a few days, they noticed his coffee cup had been sitting there way too long, tossed the cup, assumed he had bolted to avoid child support payments to his ex, and was living on the lam. He was not.

    Andy had gotten in a heated fight with his Baby Momma, who killed him with an axe and chopped him to bitty pieces. Realizing that she could not collect his most recent paychek (as she was not his wife), she decided she needed money, so she wiped-up the axe and returned it to Sears! AHHHHHHH.

    Now, lest you feel sorry for old Andy, keep in mind that that reason he was a felon is that he had strangled his half-sister in a sex crime many years before. They never found his parts but apparently some of him was tossed in the dumpster behind the Dunkin Donuts. I totaly wish I could get my old boss to call Cold Case Files on this!

  20. Kidd*

    If you live in AT-WILL state you can just stop showing up to work and be done with it. Some recruiters/employers don’t seem to understand that law and think that you have to come in. They are violating the AT-WILL laws and should be reported to labor board also this is a major RED FLAG.

  21. dori*

    What do you do when you let an employee go and also let them know, in writing, that they can pick up their last pay . However, the (now X) -employee doesn’t respond or pick up pay when, suddenly, three months later, they send an email saying they are ready to come for their last pay???

  22. Cindy*

    I have a question? I had an employee who didn’t show up to take care of a special needs child. 1hour and 45 minutes later she texts me instead of calling. I driving a truck I can’t answer. When she texted me her shift was over hour and 15 minutes before that. Then she didn’t show for her afternoon shift. Then early Saturday she texts she quits and wants
    Her paycheck. I do timesheets on sunday. This has always been a rule. She didn’t show. Do I have to pay her right now? She cost me a fortune to pay someone else to get the child get him ready for school and get him to school. Well….?

  23. arthur ang*

    is it best to notify my trainor that i wish to quit from my call center training or just go awol?

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