Help! My employee is in custody!

It is not uncommon to find that an employee’s personal life sometimes comes crashing into their work place. Perhaps it’s just the Saturday morning netball injury meaning they’re off work for a week  or a more serious illicit drug or alcohol problem where the employee is absent for days at a time (or every second Monday for some reason).

But what about when things turn serious and suddenly you find an employee is in custody? Surely these types of examples can’t be related right?

In a recent article on Smart Company News (‘worker wins his job back), they outline that events leading up to an employee’s dismissal involved him being absent from work after being charged with a criminal offence not related to his employment. As a brief overview, in May 2017 a worker was arrested for an offence and, while in custody, he says he was visited by his manager and informed he would be able to return to work when he was granted bail.

But, you might say, the employee was clearly in custody longer then the boss could have envisaged and the business had to keep running?

Workplace laws governing everyone’s employment provide for some basic entitlements to being absent and,  especially if not related to the work place, extreme care should be taken before simply firing someone because they aren’t able to present for work.

If you find yourself in a situation where an employee is not able to attend the workplace due to being placed in custody specifically (short term or otherwise), seek immediate advice on how to proceed. Unless there is a direct link to the charges and their employment (and even then extreme caution is required), employees are afforded protections under law as to their ‘absence’.

Some tips on what to do first include:

  • Get advice– first and foremost – as every case is different.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate with the employee. Find out the circumstances and leave nothing to an assumption.
  • Never make promises that may be hard to keep about their ongoing employment
  • Keep written records of notes and conversations on everything, even missed calls to the employee!
  • Follow procedural fairness in dealing with the matter, employees can be absent due to being in custody and not lose their job in some cases
  • BUT- establish if is there a link to the incident and the business…for example, are there reputational or licencing matters that can lead to fairly terminating employment regardless of the employee being free from custody?

Remembering the first step, RAW HR can help you navigate this potentially troublesome issue right at the start. If necessary, we can even help direct you to a trusted industrial lawyer if the matter has turned, well, legal!

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