Episode 113: Ghosting in the Workplace

On this episode of What the Hell Just Happened? Paul Edwards sits down with senior solution center advisor Tiana Starke to discuss ghosting in the workplace. What do you do when your employee randomly disappears out of nowhere? With all the different ways an employee can ghost, such as right after an interview, shortly after they start working with you, and many other wild ghosting situations, Paul and Tiana sit and talk about the ways you can handle these situations in a legally compliant and people-focused manner.


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

Tiana: Hello-o-o, Paul. 

Paul: Hello-o-o, Tiana [laughs].

Tiana: [Laughs] Ooo, I’m going to use a spooky voice. 

Paul: A spooky voice? [laughs]

Tiana: Today we are talking about ghosting.

Paul: Oh, yeah. Oh, wow. I see what you did there.

Tiana: That was clever, right?

Paul: Very clever. You know, I didn’t know what ghosting was until about two years ago, and then. Yeah, no, I know. I know what it is.

Tiana: So let’s kind of, like, take it to the HR context of ghosting.

Paul: Yes, there are many contexts for ghosting, but ghosting in HR is the thing now, so we get that. Let’s talk about the different ways you can be ghosted. You can be ghosted for an initial interview. You set up an initial interview, and the employee doesn’t show up and they don’t respond to text.

Tiana: Very true. Classic ghosting. 

Paul: They’re just not that into you anymore. And so they ghost you. And that ghosting metaphor runs itself through all kinds of things that have to do with H.R.

Tiana: Absolutely.

Paul: Which are ghosting scenario today?

Tiana: Well, it’s one of the most tricky ghosting scenarios because this person is already your employee but it’s that employee who has abandoned their job.

Paul: So they don’t show up one day.

Tiana: They don’t show up and no call, no show.

Paul: A no call, no show. And let’s give this persona, because this happens all the time in different contexts, so let’s give this a persona. I’m going to give it a persona that this employee is- this is unexpected. They’re not new. So we expect ghosting in new employees. Yeah. It’s more- it’s more rare for it to occur with an employee who’s been with you for several months or several years…

Tiana: Oh, for sure. 

Paul: But I think you should kind of show the same initial concern for them going missing that you would show regardless of how long they’ve been working for you.

Tiana: Really good point. Yeah. Regardless of their tenure, what the situation might be, it’s not a normal thing. We never want to normalize somebody, just not showing up for work and not calling you. So, you know, by acting with the best of assumptions and intentions, you know, assuming the best intentions in our employees. 

Paul: Right. 

Tiana: You know, it’s helpful to start out as considering, “is this an emergency?” You know, and so and oftentimes a really good first step is actually reaching out to an emergency contact for this person. If they haven’t shown up for their shift, you haven’t heard from them. It’s been a couple hours. I’m going to throw out the caveat that a lot of times other employees might chime in and they’re like, “oh, well, Suzie is over on Instagram and she’s like going live right now. She it’s totally fine.” So in those cases, maybe…

Paul: She’s going live in Cabo. I think we know where she is.

Tiana: Yeah. So- so those instances aside, if you legitimately don’t know where this person is, that’s a good first step.

Paul: Right. And it’s normal for someone who has. It’s- it’s weird because it’s normal for someone who has abandoned their job and just doesn’t want to come back to work and don’t want to talk to you anymore. They’re conflict avoidant or whatever it is. They- they present themselves the same way as someone who may be having some kind of a life emergency or other reason why they’re not coming to work.

And that’s the one that I’m worried about Tiana, because I recall again and the way back machine and it didn’t happen to one of our members but you know how it is, as H.R. experts were always reading up on court cases and different things, they’re firing stuff at us all the time. I remember this case vaguely where an employee had a medical condition.

She worked for a rather large company. I think it might have been like a call center, and they had a no call, no show policy- was three days, theirs. It might have been five. I don’t know. She went missing. She did have her boyfriend call in and tell them that she wasn’t able to come in, that she had a medical issue.

The policy read three days, no call, no show you. It’s grounds for termination. And they also had another policy that said if you are sick and can’t come to work, you cannot have someone else call in for you. So they combine those two things and issued a termination letter to her and they got sued underneath the ADA because she was trapped in a hospital. She had had a procedure.

Tiana: Right, with no way to reach out.

Paul: She had no way to reach out. So she followed the first policy and had her significant other call in. They use that against it and termed her and they and she won a substantial lawsuit. 

Tiana: Ugh, what a mess. 

Paul: So back to where we were going here, folks. We- I’m we’re treating- if we’re treating you, hey, I like that metaphor because we work with medical and, you know, if we’re treating you, we’re treating you for kind of the worst case scenario here. Let’s look at this and make sure that there’s not something wrong.

Tiana: Absolutely.

Paul: Also, while we’re doing it, we’re documenting, right? 

Tiana: For sure. 

Paul: So nobody can come back later and say that we didn’t make every effort to try to figure out what was going on.

Tiana: Yeah. And I think talking policies, too, you know, a common way that this is laid out and in a much safer way than the example that you gave. That was just not something we would ever advise. But it is OK to say that if, you know, call no show and we really prefer to make this at least two consecutive shifts. You know, if you try to make this one shift, there just are emergencies that could come up. It’s- it’s a little tight you know, and I’ve seen too many situations as an HR Professional where, you know, by the end of the day, the person’s family member reaches out and it’s like, “hey, they were hospitalized and this is when they can return to work”.

So two in a row is a better indicator that if somebody is truly ghosting you, you know, they’re not going to show up for a second shift either. But you can say that two consecutive no call, no shows would construe your resignation from employment and job abandonment frequently is viewed in the lens of unemployment as being a resignation too. 

But one thing that I do want to throw out, there are two parties to this situation and it’s not enough for this person to just not show up for their shift. It takes an effort from the management team to also try to reach out to this person. And that’s going to help your defense. If you are trying to claim that this person abandoned their position, you know, they have now resigned is to also show, “hey, when they were 2 hours late, they hadn’t shown up. We also tried to call them. We left them a voicemail. We told them to call us. By the end of the day. We didn’t receive anything. This happened two days in a row” and then that can be documented further and a very clearly written resignation confirmation letter. If you get to that point.

Paul: And if you go down the HR rabbit hole as manager you’re in different states out there listening to us. We only have one listener. So maybe they work in two different states. 

[Tiana laughs]

Paul: So if folks are listening, you’re in different states there are different requirements for when you pay people. And so when someone quits, generally, you can pay them- As far as I can remember, if someone quits, resigns in this way, abandons, you have to pay by the next pay period.

Tiana: Yeah, that’s generally correct.

Paul: Some states require that if you terminate, you have to pay immediately. Those are much fewer. But the fact is, is that you may be- we’re always bouncing up against some timeline and it’s like, “well, I’m issuing this letter, I need to do it now because I’ve got to run payroll if I’m going to meet my obligation”. 

Tiana: Absolutely. 

Paul: And that’s something that, you know, you just have to understand and kind of your plan for that if you can. OK, so we have an employee, our persona, our employees’ persona is they have gone missing and now it’s been a day or two. And do you have any other details?

Tiana: Yeah. So now it’s been a day or two. So this business, let’s say they decide to reach out to this person’s emergency contact…

Paul: Which is a good idea. 

Tiana: Yeah. 

Paul: So they go in there with all and they find the person’s information and they call the emergency contact.

Tiana: Yeah. So they call emergency contact. But let’s say emergency contact also says, “hey, I’m very concerned as well. I usually talk to this person every day. I have not been able to touch base with them. I don’t know where they are.”

Paul: And now they’re really freaked out yeah. Because work called.

Tiana: Yeah, now they’re really freaked out. So there might reach a point where the emergency contact, if you’ve collected this information, you know, they may decide to reach out to the authorities. We’ve also had members where they were legitimately concerned and they said, “hey, we forgot to collect emergency contact for this person when they were hired”.

Paul: So they just call the police.

Tiana: So they just called the police. And you can do that if there’s a legitimate fear of safety, you know, but this is another reason as to why it’s really important to collect emergency contact information upon hire. You just don’t want the onus to be on you. And, you know, police could do a welfare check, but that becomes more awkward if, you know, the person is doing just fine. They wanted to… Yeah, get in a good shopping trip or something. 

Paul: Yeah. They just decided they were going to come back to work. But you can still do that if if you want to. But, you know, you start with texting you start with you find their personal email and shoot an email to them. You call, you call a few times, you leave a message, you make an earnest effort to find out if they’re OK and if they’re going to be coming back to work.

Tiana: Absolutely. Yeah. And in some of these situations, we’ve seen this turn into something where they were able to track down the person, a huge emergency happened, turned into a leave of absence situation. And, you know, you want to think carefully as an employer about your ability to pivot and these situations. Sometimes, you know, you might be in a position where it’s like, oh, this person wasn’t working out. This is our ticket out to say that they’ve resigned and you put yourself in a really bad position if you are trying to claim that somebody resigned when they have actually returned contact with you at some point. 

Paul: Right. So sticking to type to your policy could actually not work for you, but we still want the policy in place… So that when the facts come to bear that this person has just abandoned the job and doesn’t want to keep working. We can call it what it is. And we have a policy that calls it that. And because you have a policy in place and everything aligns to support that, they have abandoned their position you’re in the best shape you can be in from an unemployment claim. You know, all of those things.

Tiana: Absolutely. 

Paul: OK, well, I think we’ve really covered this pretty well be- as we say so often. We tend I think and maybe you elicit this from me, be a little compassionate, be it’s a fact finding thing that you’re looking for. Make sure you’re reaching out. We have many instances here at CEDR because we’ve been doing this for close to two decades. We have many instances here at CEDR where- where the employer is the one who discovers there’s something going on that is not just someone walking off the job and some of being quite serious.

Tiana: Yeah.

Paul: You know, I mean, quite serious.

Tiana: Very serious.

Paul: And you save the day by- by just reaching out and contacting the emergency contact and kind of, you know, doing your diligence OK, interesting question. Something that comes up all the time.

Tiana: Yeah. Thank you so much, Paul.

Paul: Yeah, that was great.

Tiana: Yeah, that’s great. Enjoyed it. Yeah.

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, you’d like us to discuss on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives.

Sep 27, 2022

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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