The Man Who Was Fired For Taking A 24-Year Leave Of Absence

I don't want to get up
“My ambition is handicapped by my laziness.” —Charles Bukowski

In A Nutshell

India is known for having a problem with absenteeism in its work force. But A.K. Verma can’t accuse his employer, the Central Public Works Department in India, of a rush to judgment. They didn’t fire him until 24 years and one month after he began taking an unauthorized leave of absence. That’s a lot different than what you see in other countries like China, where a bank regulator was praised by the government for dying of overwork, or Thailand, where bus conductors wear adult diapers because they don’t get enough bathroom breaks.

The Whole Bushel

India is known for having a problem with absenteeism in its workforce. Although unplanned absences add 10 percent to payroll costs for companies worldwide, that number is 15 to 20 percent in India. The costs linked to general mismanagement of employees are three times higher in India than elsewhere.

But A.K. Verma can’t accuse his employer, the Central Public Works Department in India, of a rush to judgment. They didn’t fire him until 24 years and one month after he began taking an unauthorized leave of absence. It all started in December 1990 when Verma took a legitimate leave that he’d earned. He just never came back.

Verma did ask for extensions of his leave, but his requests were denied. The government began its investigation of his prolonged absence in 1992. However, nothing definitive happened. In 2007, the minister of urban development filed formal charges against Verma to begin the process of removing him from his job. It took over seven more years to terminate his employment for a total of 24 years and one month since his unauthorized leave began. Until then, labor laws in India had made it almost impossible to dismiss a public official for any reason other than criminal misconduct. It’s not clear whether Verma was paid during his years of unauthorized absence.

However, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, who became India’s minister of urban development in early 2014, has ordered that all cases like Verma’s must now be reviewed. Also, India scans its public employees’ fingerprints now to monitor work hours and then posts attendance records on the Internet in real time.

Government bureaucracy isn’t so lenient in other countries. When bank regulator Li Jianhua died of overwork in 2014 at just 48 years old, the Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) praised his commitment to work and suggested that other employees should follow his selfless example. His cause of death fell into the CBRC’s category of “long-term overwork.” Although this happens in other nations, too, death from overwork is so pervasive in some Asian countries that they coined the term guolaosi for it in China and karoshi in Japan. Approximately 1,600 Chinese die each day from overwork, which equates to almost 600,000 people per year.

In other countries, people grapple with other unfair job conditions that can affect their health, too. For example, in the capital city of Bangkok, Thailand, bus conductors wear adult diapers because they don’t get enough bathroom breaks. Although Bangkok has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years, many of its citizens are still poor and have no choice but to work long hours. Some bus conductors work as many as 16 hours per day. It’s against the law for state employees to strike in Thailand, even if working conditions are unfair.

“They have to work long hours in the heat and when they are hungry, they cannot eat. When they want to go to the toilet, they cannot,” Chutima Boonjai, secretary of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority labor union, told The Hindu. Many of the female bus conductors have been diagnosed with urinary tract infections and even uterine cancer from wearing dirty diapers.

Show Me The Proof

The Economic Times: Absenteeism, lack of manpower planning challenges in India
Mashable: Man fired after not coming to work for 24 years
Business Insider: A Chinese Bank Regulator Died From Working Overtime—And Officials Applauded His Dedication
Taipei Times: Overworked Thai bus conductors turn to wearing diapers during long shifts