Publishing Approval workflow doesn't automatically start in SharePoint Online or in SharePoint Server on-premises

Problem

A Publishing Approval workflow that uses the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Workflow platform doesn't start automatically in SharePoint Online or in an on-premises installation of SharePoint Server. On the Workflow Status page, you receive the following error message: 

The workflow could not update the item, possibly because one or more columns for the item require a different type of information.

An error occurred in Page Approval.

For the on-premises installation of SharePoint Server, the Unified Logging System (ULS) log contains the following information:

System.NullReferenceException: Object reference not set to an instance of an object. 
at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOEWSSService.GetWebForWorkflow
(SPWorkflow wf, SPWorkflowUserContext runAsUser) 
at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOEWSSService.get_Web() 
at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOEWSSService.GetWebForListItemService() 
at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOEWSSService.UpdateModerationStatus
(Guid id, Guid listId, SPItemKey itemKey, 
SPModerationStatusType newModerationStatus, String comments) 
at Microsoft.Office.Workflow.Actions.SetTaskProcessItemModerationStatus.DoUpdae
(ActivityExecutionContext context) 
at Microsoft.SharePoint.WorkflowActions.WaitForDocumentUnlockActivity.Execute
(ActivityExecutionContext executionContext) 
at Microsoft.Office.Workflow.Actions.SetTaskProcessItemModerationStatus.Execute
(ActivityExecutionContext context) 
at System.Workflow.ComponentModel.ActivityExecutor`1.Execute
(T activity, ActivityExecutionContext executionContext) 
at System.Workflow.ComponentModel.ActivityExecutorOperation.Run
(IWorkflowCoreRuntime workflowCoreRuntime) 
at System.Workflow.Runtime.Scheduler.Run()

Solution

To resolve this issue, use SharePoint Designer 2013 to publish the globally reusable workflow from the root of the site collection. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Use SharePoint Designer 2013 to sign in to the affected site.

  2. On the Site Objects menu, click Workflows.

  3. In the list of workflows, click the affected workflow.

  4. On the WORKFLOW SETTINGS tab on the ribbon, click Publish.

More information

This issue may occur if the user account that created the site collection or that started the Publishing Approval workflow feature was removed from the site collection.

Still need help? Go to Microsoft Community.

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