How Absent Without Leave Works

Absent without leave, commonly referred to as AWOL, describes an employee's absence from the workplace without informing the employer or seeking official permission through the regular, approved channels. When the employee is absent from the workplace, the employee won't be entitled to the regular salary through the absent time. The employee can receive a payment if they suffer from an illness, injury, or other emergencies that prevent them from reporting for duty, and they report this as soon as possible and furnish satisfactory evidence.

If any employee gets into the habit of being absent without permission- this can result in legal cessation or employment termination. Nevertheless, when an employee is absent from work due to genuine and officially reported sickness, maternity, or family-related leave, statutory time off, or pre-booked annual leave- this does not constitute an absence without permission. In the military, if an officer is absent from their officially assigned station and duties without permission but is not planning to desert- this constitutes an absence without permission.

In such a case, the authorities must make a reasonable effort to contact the missing officer; the authorities-or superiors- can only act to cease the officer's employment once they exhaust the legal channels to locate and restore them to their duties. The superiors would advise and caution the officer that the continued absence constitutes unauthorized desertion of duty and that failure to report within the stipulated period can lead to termination of service or employment cessation.

Real-World Example of Absent Without Leave

In 2009, U.S. soldier Sgt. Bergdahl walked away without permission from his officially assigned station in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgents soon captured the young soldier. The insurgents kept Bergdahl captive for five years. In 2014, President Barack Obama's administration decided to strike a controversial deal with the Taliban. The deal resulted in the Taliban releasing five captive U.S. soldiers- including Sgt. Bergdahl. In exchange, the U.S. Army released five Taliban insurgents from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

On Sgt. Bergdahl's release, U.S. Army authorities immediately charged Sgt. Bergdahl with unauthorized desertion of duty (AWOL) and risky misbehavior in enemy territory. According to army regulations, some charges against the young officer were punishable by life imprisonment. Sgt. Bergdahl pleaded guilty to both charges- of AWOL and risky misbehavior. The officer's trial sparked animated debate within the U.S. media, with some accusing the U.S. Army authorities of insensitivity following the horrific ordeal that the officer endured under Taliban captivity.

A military court granted Sgt. Bergdahl a dishonorable discharge from the Army; this saved him from imprisonment for reprehensible misconduct. The judge ordered Sgt. Bergdahl's demotion from sergeant to private. Further, the judge ordered the officer to pay a fine of $ 1,000 for ten months. After the sentencing, President Donald Trump controversially declared the judges' decision in the trial as a disgrace to the country and the military. Trump accused former President Barack Obama of having created a bad precedent by allowing the controversial prisoner exchange with the Taliban.

Significance of Absent Without Leave

While absent without leave's legal sense indicates an unexecuted absence, it doesn't matter much the length of the absence. A superior can legally charge you with AWOL whether you arrive at the workplace one hour late or if you fail to report to work for the whole week. Here are some circumstances under which your superiors may legally charge you with absence without leave:

  • When you applied for leave, but the employer properly denied the leave request,
  • You reported for work but irregularly left the workstation without due permission,
  • You proceeded to leave without making a formal request,
  • You applied for leave, but the request didn't meet the threshold for policies and procedures,
  • You failed to report for work during the regular work hours,
  • You returned to work after a regularly approved medical leave but failed to furnish the required medical documentation to justify your absence.