You cannot just go Awol (Absent Without Leave) from work without notifying your employer, and simply refuse to answer the employer’s calls because you “fear” it might cause a relapse in your depressed state.
This is a hard lesson that a member of the Motor Industry Staff Association (Misa) recently learned. He was employed as a sales executive at a dealership in the Eastern Cape, but was later fired for going Awol.
The union member who simply left his workplace on December 20 and was “missing in action” for 10 days because he was upset with his employer, claimed that he suffered from depression.
He, however, could not prove to the employer that he visited a doctor for the depression.
Although he had six days’ leave due to him, the employer refused to pay him as he had absconded from December 20 until January 5, while enjoying his full salary at the end of December.
He was, however, fired last month.
Martlé Keyter, MiChief Executive Officer: Operations at Misa, said the case illustrated why members should contact their union for advice if they felt aggrieved, before acting impulsively.
The member was upset when his employer gave the company vehicle allocated to him, to a customer. The vehicle was returned by the customer on December 19 and offered back to the member, but he refused to take possession of it.
Taking matters into his own hands, the union member absconded the next day and stayed away from work without permission for 10 days.
According to Keyter, his employer tried to contact him numerous times in vain. The member said he was depressed and was taking antidepressants. He said he did notice that his employer was trying to get a hold of him, but viewed the calls as “fruitless” and he “feared” that he might suffer a relapse in his mental health if he took the employer’s calls.
He was at the time working at the dealership for a few months.
When asked in his disciplinary enquiry to submit proof that he was unfit for work and had sought medical assistance, he handed in a confirmatory letter from a doctor dated January 5 - the day he returned to work.
According to the letter, he was on chronic medication for hypertension, displayed some symptoms of depressed moods and an inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia) most of the time, accompanied by a lack of concentration due to psychosocial factors.
“This is a pointer to a major depressive episode. He has been placed on antidepressants. Psychotherapy has also been offered to him,” the letter stated.
Even though the letter was from a medical practitioner, it did not validate or confirm a depressive state during the time of absenteeism, merely confirming an analysis after the fact, it was found during his hearing.
Keyter said that if the member had contacted the union prior to taking matters in to his own hands, the union would have tried to reach an amicable solution with the employer.
After the member was dismissed and his leave days were used for the period of absenteeism, he accused the union on its social media pages of accepting bribes.
Keyter said the union viewed these allegations in a very serious light and conducted an investigation into the handling of the case.
“His allegations proved to be totally unfounded,” she said.