What Is Job Abandonment and How To Prevent It? [Practical Guide]

Written by Andrea Boatman
12 minutes read

When an employee disappears without warning, their team and the organization feel the consequences. Job abandonment creates uncertainty and affects productivity when others must scramble to fill the void indefinitely. HR should stay on top of the job abandonment issue to deter this type of workflow interruption. 

In this article, we provide an overview of job abandonment, why it may happen, ways to prevent it, and how to create an effective job abandonment policy.

What is job abandonment?
What is considered job abandonment?
Job abandonment consequences
Common reasons for job abandonment
6 key aspects of a job abandonment policy
Best practices for preventing job abandonment
Job abandonment letters

What is job abandonment?

Job abandonment is when an employee fails to come to work for a specific number of consecutive days or shifts without indicating their return date or giving notice of resignation. 

These continued no-call, no-show situations are generally considered a voluntary resignation, even though the employee has not formally stated an intention to quit.

Job abandonment differs from absenteeism, even though they are both unplanned time off from scheduled work. Absenteeism is when employees miss work but do come back. Job abandonment situations involve employees who have no intention of returning to work.

What is considered job abandonment?

There is no universal description of what constitutes job abandonment. Each organization must define what turns absences into job abandonment and formulate its own policy.

Nevertheless, there are some general indications that an employee has abandoned their position. These include:

  • Employee is a no-show without explanation for several (often three) consecutive days or shifts.
  • Employee does not respond to phone calls, emails, or any other forms of communication within 72 hours of contact.
  • Employee has removed personal belongings from their workspace.

Job abandonment consequences

All work absences cost time and money because they interfere with daily operations. However, job abandonment situations complicate this further because of the ambiguity surrounding the employee’s return. 

The repercussions of job abandonment include the following:

  • Disruption to operations: A no-show employee leaves you shorthanded, impacting how work gets done and how well customers are served. Managers must also take time away from their regular responsibilities to deal with adjusting and distributing the workload.
  • Productivity loss: Producing expected output is challenging when tasks are delayed or reallocated. According to a survey on the financial impact of employee absences, unplanned absences have the highest average productivity loss, with an average of 36.6%. Having to onboard replacement hires also affects productivity until they get up to speed. 
  • Costs to replace the employee: There are expenses related to filling the void for an undisclosed amount of time as you sort through a job abandonment situation. For example, there could be overtime pay or premium pay for callbacks. Furthermore, the business must invest resources in recruiting to fill the open position. A Gallup study on the cost of voluntary turnover for US businesses showed that it can cost from one-half to two times an employee’s salary to replace them.
  • Decreased employee morale: Unexpected employee departures put added pressure on managers and the rest of the team. Co-workers will resent covering for the absent employee and speculate about what caused the abandonment, including how the work environment may have contributed. This promotes a negative atmosphere that contributes to lower morale.
  • Potential legal issues – While there are no specific job abandonment laws, there may still be legal considerations. If an employment contract exists with the absent employee, you will need to address this. Also, if the situation involves medical reasons, you could have related regulations to comply with that protect employee rights, such as FMLA or ADA in the US.

For all these reasons, HR practitioners should understand and tackle the issue of job abandonment in the workplace.

Common reasons for job abandonment

Although more common in notoriously high turnover industries, job abandonment can occur in any type of organization and for a variety of reasons. It is often attributable to an employee who feels no commitment or loyalty to the employer and lacks strong communication skills. 

Sometimes, people work one or two shifts and never come back. Other instances involve employees not returning after exhausting their paid leave.

Common explanations for why people ghost their employers include the following:

  • Finding preferable employment and failing to convey their decision.
  • Disliking or struggling to perform the job and taking a quick way out. 
  • Being uncomfortable about or embarrassed to discuss their reason for leaving. 
  • Not understanding the available options for medical/personal/family leave.

There are occasions when employees have overwhelming crises that preclude them from contacting their employer. For example, if they experience a medical or family emergency or a natural disaster. These circumstances require scrutiny on a case-by-case basis before categorizing them as job abandonment.

6 key aspects of a job abandonment policy

A formal job abandonment policy makes handling these circumstances simpler and more consistent. If HR and managers have steps to follow when an employee is a no-show, they can immediately address the problem. It removes the doubt and guessing about how to proceed in these situations and reduces the time wasted holding a position for a truant employee. 

A well-defined job abandonment policy and protocols is also the best way to address related legal considerations. If there is any inconsistency with how other absences are handled, a no-call, no-show employee may be able to justify a wrongful termination claim. A thorough investigation can maintain that the situation was a voluntary job abandonment situation and not just a miscommunication.

The job abandonment policy should be included in your employee handbook and contain these six features:

1. A clear definition of job abandonment

Employees need to understand what your organization considers job abandonment. You must define how many days of absence without providing notice constitute job abandonment. The standard is typically three consecutive days or missed shifts, but employers can choose what best suits their organization. 

The policy should also list several different scenarios that would constitute job abandonment. Common examples include not showing up for scheduled shifts, not returning after being on leave, or not filing short-term disability or FMLA paperwork. 

There should also be a clarification that job abandonment is considered a voluntary resignation, which means the employee is terminated and not eligible for unemployment benefits.

2. Absence notification requirements

Your general attendance policy should specify how, when, and who employees should notify if they’re unable to make it to work. Restate this particular wording in the job abandonment policy to help prevent misunderstandings that can lead to perceived job abandonment.

Importance of job abandonment policy and investigation: Burd v. Tahtsa Timber Ltd

The Supreme Court in British Columbia, Canada, emphasized that employers cannot merely assume an employee has voluntarily resigned.

Donald Burd, who had worked for Tahtsa Timber Ltd. for over 15 years, had a medical emergency and was off work for nearly a year. Upon providing medical clearance to return, there was a communication breakdown between Burd and his employer regarding his return. The employer assumed Burd had quit, while Burd believed he was dismissed.

The Court ruled that Burd was dismissed without cause, and awarded him damages in the amount of $73,879.38 based on 15 months of reasonable notice.

This case highlights the need for employers to take definitive steps to confirm an employee’s resignation to prevent wrongful dismissal claims.

3. An investigation process

Employers are responsible for demonstrating that they took appropriate measures to investigate the situation and made sure that the employee had no intention of returning to their position. You must try to ascertain why the individual has missed work and if they are open to communicating with you.  

A company representative needs to reach out to the individual by following the designated process in your job abandonment policy. You should also define the acceptable methods of contact (phone calls, email, texts) and how many attempts to make within a specified number of business days.

Here is an example of a job abandonment investigation process:

  • First attempt at contact – Using all your standard methods of contact with employees, try to find out why they have missed their shift(s) and if/when they will return. 
  • Second attempt – Wait 24 hours and contact the person again using all available means of communication. 
  • Third attempt – Try to reach the person they have listed as their emergency contact to see if they have any relevant information. Make another effort to contact the employee directly.
  • Send a registered letter – This correspondence should detail the dates they missed work and your previous communication attempts. It should state that if they don’t respond within one week of receiving the letter, the company will consider it job abandonment. (See example below.)
  • Final contact by registered letter – If there is still no response, declare their termination of employment in writing. You should have a job abandonment letter template on file that outlines why the termination is taking place and the effective date. It should also include who to contact if they have questions. (See example below.)

4. Compliance with established termination procedures

Once you conclude that the job abandonment was indeed a voluntary work separation or termination, follow the standard process in your organization’s termination policy

This includes paying out all the compensation the former employee is due and offering a transition to COBRA for health benefits, if applicable.

Six types of voluntary work separations, including job abandonment.
Job abandonment is generally considered a type of voluntary work separation.

5. Thorough documentation

A written company policy that explains that job abandonment is grounds for automatic termination is the first way to protect employers. Still, you must document every step in the process in the employee’s file. 

Supervisors and Human Resources representatives should make detailed notes of each absence and every attempt to contact the employee. If a former employee fired for job abandonment decides to take legal action, comprehensive records kept throughout the incident can work in the employer’s favor.

Job abandonment in practice: Massaquoi v. American Credit Acceptance

In this court case, an employee was deemed to have abandoned her job after her employer believed she had moved cities, given her desk appeared emptied of personal items.

The employee, who began working for American Credit in 2013, claimed illness on August 24, 2015, and said she’d return on August 26. However, she received a termination letter sent on August 24 due to job abandonment. She later alleged discriminatory termination.

The court rejected the employee’s arguments, noting she never responded to multiple communication attempts from her employer. The case underscores the importance of clear communication and documentation in cases of suspected job abandonment.

6. Consistency in applying the policy

Enforce the job abandonment policy consistently throughout your workforce and follow it exactly as written. Anytime an employee is a no-show for the specified number of days, implement the policy and start an investigation.

Applying the policy uniformly gives the perception of fairness and discourages the assumption that you take unexcused absences lightly.

Best practices for preventing job abandonment

You may not be able to eliminate job abandonment in your workplace, but there are steps you can take to prevent it from becoming rampant. 

The point is to identify and rectify the underlying issues that may contribute to low employee engagement. Unreasonable demands or a toxic work environment can cause employees to detach and feel more inclined to jump ship without notice. 

Apply the following practices to explore how your organization can avoid situations that may trigger employees to leave you stranded:

Encourage regular check-ins

Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings between employees and supervisors are great opportunities to address employee problems before they worsen. Individuals can discuss their concerns and frustrations and feel heard rather than deciding to leave without notice.

As an HR professional, educate managers about the importance of these meetings and encourage them to schedule regular check-ins with their team members.

Nine tips for how to prevent job abandonment.

Promote team building

Organize team-building activities and events to foster camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Holding these during working hours encourages participation and demonstrates an employer’s desire to invest in employees. The more connected people feel to the organization and each other, the less likely they are to abandon their jobs.

Offer flexible work arrangements

Flexible work schedules, remote work options, or compressed workweeks can help employees maintain a more satisfying work-life balance. This can go a long way in keeping people committed to their jobs and not inclined to leave abruptly without notice.

Conduct surveys

Give employees a way to voice their concerns and provide feedback about the organization and their work environment. When you address their concerns and act on their suggestions, employees will feel valued and respected by the company.

Ensure your employees that their feedback is anonymous so that they are comfortable being honest about workplace issues.

Promote awareness of attendance policies

You must educate all employees on your attendance policy during onboarding. Provide it in writing and review it verbally with new hires. Go over specific scenarios so they understand the different types of absences and the protocol for how to request or report time off with their supervisors. 

If applicable, be sure they understand their rights under FMLA and know how to access the information and necessary paperwork the company provides.

Address performance issues promptly

Employees who are struggling in their positions need to be reminded of expectations and offered support as soon as the deficiency is noticed.

Help managers implement a specific plan for how the employee can improve their performance. Resolving these issues quickly will eliminate the employee’s, manager’s, and co-workers’ frustration and tension.

Review your vacation and leave-of-absence policies

Companies with competitive paid time off policies provide their employees with breaks to take care of their health, handle personal business, and refresh themselves. This can prevent burnout and motivate them to stay with the company. Even unpaid leave provides a sense of security for employees who may need additional time away.

Regularly review your leave of absence policies and see where you can make improvements. Furthermore, ensure that someone stays in contact with everyone who is on medical leave. Research shows that employees who receive support from their employer while recovering from an injury are 5X more likely to return to work.

Motivate employees to give proper notice

Although giving two weeks’ notice is the courteous way to resign, people may not see how it benefits them. Encouraging employees to give adequate notice can make them think twice about leaving without warning. You can do this by offering incentives, such as eligibility for rehiring or payment for unused vacation or sick days.

In European countries, where it is common to specify the notice period in the employment contract, make it clear that you’re open to discussing other possibilities for ending the employment.

Celebrate departing employees

When employees who resign are sent off with good wishes, it builds morale. A goodbye party or an email announcement to acknowledge the departing employee conveys that the company cares about its team members as individuals and values their professional success.

It also demonstrates that leaving the organization is not a reason to be scorned, so employees don’t need to feel intimidated about resigning. Treating those who leave with respect contributes to a positive work atmosphere and deters employees from abandoning their jobs.

Job abandonment letters

We’ve put together two sample letters for job abandonment situations that you can use as templates. One acts as a warning, and the other is a notification of termination.

Job abandonment warning letter

[Company name/address]

Dear [employee],

[Company name] has a firm absence reporting policy stated in our employee handbook as follows:
“[Policy language regarding job abandonment]”

You have been absent without providing notice to your supervisor on the following occasions:
[Incident dates/times]

In response to your absence, a supervisor attempted to contact you on the following occasions:
[Contact attempt dates/times]

Other company representatives have tried to reach you on the following occasions:
[Employee names/contact attempts]

We have concluded that your unauthorized absences since [last date of work or authorized leave] and failure to respond to our communication attempts mean that you have voluntarily abandoned your position. 

In accordance with our job abandonment policy, if we do not hear back from you within seven (7) days of the receipt of this registered letter, your employment with us will end on [date]

If there are extenuating circumstances we are unaware of, and you would like to dispute this determination, or if you have any questions, please contact [name] immediately at [contact information].

[Company representative]

Job abandonment termination letter

[Company name/address]

Dear [employee],

According to our records, you have not reported to work at [company name] since [last date of work or authorized leave], nor have you contacted your supervisor regarding these absences.

As explained in the registered letter we sent you on [date of warning letter], your absence from work without notification for more than [number of days] consecutive days is designated as job abandonment. 

This letter is formal notice that your employment with [company name] has been terminated for job abandonment effective [date]. This is considered a voluntary resignation.

If you have company property in your possession, please return it immediately. [List known items, if applicable.]

[If applicable] A separate notification letter regarding your benefits will be sent to you within 30 days. Any pay owed to you will be issued on the next scheduled payday via your selected payment method.

If you need additional information, please contact [name] at [contact information].

[Company representative]

The bottom line

Having a thorough job abandonment policy and adhering to it helps you manage abandonment situations more effectively and avoid difficulties, such as wrongful termination lawsuits. In addition, taking preventative measures to avoid job abandonment is equally important. 

Implementing consistent attendance and leave policies and cultivating employee wellbeing and engagement are key factors in shielding your organization from the disruption of job abandonment.


Is job abandonment the same as quitting?

Job abandonment is a form of quitting, but it lacks the notice of leaving that a regular resignation incorporates.

Is job abandonment illegal?

There are no employment laws that refer specifically to job abandonment. However, employees with an employment contract may have certain obligations to fulfill.

How many days is considered job abandonment?

Organizations can establish their own criteria for how many days of unauthorized absence determine a job abandonment situation. A common standard is three consecutive days or shifts.

Is job abandonment voluntary or involuntary?

A repeated no-call, no-show employee is held responsible for job abandonment. It is considered a voluntary termination.


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Andrea Boatman

Andrea Boatman is a former SHRM certified HR manager with a degree in English who now enjoys combining the two as an HR writer. Her previous positions were held with employers in the education, healthcare, and pension consulting industries.

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