How AWOL Works

As soon as an employee goes AWOL, a business must contact the employee to establish why they are absent. AWOL does not necessarily mean that an employee quit—they are simply absent without notifying management. While there is no specific timeframe for this, businesses try to make contact immediately. If they cannot get through to the employee, they may try to determine the situation from the next of kin or emergency contacts.

In most cases, a single instance of AWOL may not lead to dismissal. However, there may be disciplinary action. The business may make an exception when an employee was absent but had a good reason as to why they did not make it to work, i.e., a family emergency or an accident. To justly dismiss an employee for being AWOL, the employer must have taken all measures to contact the employee.

AWOL Example

It's been a particularly difficult season at UMS, United Mailing Service. Between being understaffed and management lashing out at employees, several people have quit. One delivery driver, Adam, recently missed work and didn't notify management of his absence. This is unusual for him as he is a hard worker and typically follows procedures.

Adam's manager attempts to contact him several times via phone call that day, but he does not answer. The employee doesn't show up to work the next day either. Again, his manager tries calling, but to no avail. Adam is officially considered AWOL.

After a week of several attempts to contact Adam, his manager calls his emergency contact. This contact reassures his manager that Adam is okay. Because there is no apparent good reason for Adam to be absent from work, his manager assumes that Adam resigned.

AWOL vs Unauthorized Absence

The main difference between AWOL and an unauthorized absence lies in communication. When an employee is AWOL, there is usually no contact from them or an explanation of why they did not attend work. In unauthorized absence, there is some communication from the employee. Most likely, the employee asked for the day off, was not approved for it, but took it off anyway. This situation almost always leads to disciplinary action.

Significance of AWOL

Instances of AWOL are not good for business. It may lead to the frustration and demoralization of other employees. When an employee goes AWOL, their employer may still pay them for the day—the business's administration could note it as a sick or personal day. This could look bad to hard-working employees who rely on the missing person's presence, and they may see it as an unfair "reward" to the employee. The company may also lose credibility among customers, especially when the employee who goes AWOL was responsible for maintaining contact with the customer or delivering a deadline-based service on the day they were absent.