Paid and Unpaid Leave of Absence: Definition and Examples

Updated July 31, 2023

If an unexpected situation occurs in your personal life, you could be guaranteed a leave of absence to take time off from work to handle this circumstance. Certain situations require employers to grant you a specific number of hours away from work. It's typically up to your employer to decide if this time off will be paid or unpaid. In this article, we discuss what a leave of absence is, explore the differences between a paid and unpaid leave of absence and share common examples of a paid leave of absence.

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What is a leave of absence?

A leave of absence occurs when a supervisor grants an employee an extended period off from their work responsibilities to handle a significant, and sometimes unexpected personal event. When an employee takes this time off from work, it can either be paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstance and employers' preferences.

Related: When To Ask for a Leave of Absence

Paid leave vs. unpaid leave of absence

The two main types of leaves of absence are paid and unpaid. The definitions and differences between the two are as follows:

Paid leave

This leave of absence allows you to take time off from work and still receive your normal pay. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires your employer to grant you a specific amount of time off from work duties for certain personal issues, but it's not federally required that it be paid leave. Some state laws may require employers to provide paid time off for certain leaves of absence.

Many employers typically choose to offer an allotted amount of paid leave to their team to ensure they remain financially stable during their time away from work duties. Some companies provide their employees with a set number of paid leave hours that they can use for any personal instances. Others allow their employees to accrue this paid leave over time based on how many days and hours they work. Check your company's handbook to determine how many hours of paid leave you're allotted.

Unpaid leave

Unpaid leave is the extended time period your employer allows you to take off of work without providing you with compensation during that time. If your reason for taking time off is considered mandatory by the FMLA, you're allowed certain days of unpaid leave with a guarantee that your position will still be available when you return to work. You should also still be able to receive certain employee benefits, like health insurance coverage.

Some employers let you put your accrued vacation time toward your leave of absence. If your vacation hours run out but you still need to remain on leave, the rest of that time will typically just be unpaid.

Related: Leave of Absence Letter Request (With Examples)

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Examples of paid leave of absence

Some leaves of absence are considered mandatory, which requires your employer to give you a certain number of hours off to tend to your personal situation. Common examples of paid leaves of absence include:


This type of leave is granted to employees who have experienced a death in their family or to their loved ones. Most companies will give these employees time off to make arrangements and recover from their loss. The FMLA allows employees 12 weeks of leave to handle family-related matters, which can include health conditions or serious illnesses, so this type of leave is usually covered by that policy.

Related: How To Take Bereavement Leave


The FMLA also covers maternity and paternity leave to new parents for up to 12 weeks. Employees can take this time to bond with their newborn child and to adapt to their new life with their children. Not only are employees typically offered parental leave for newborns, but they're also granted this for children they've newly adopted as well. Review your state's FMLA laws regarding paid leave, as some require companies to offer paid parental leave.

Military duty

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act requires companies to offer their employees unpaid leave if an employee is called in to serve in the military. The employee is guaranteed their role when they return from service, along with their health insurance coverage. This includes employees who are either currently active or inactive members of the United States military.

Jury duty

Your employer must grant you time off to serve as a federal court juror under the Jury Systems Improvement Act. There is no federal law stating that employees must receive paid leave of absence when serving on jury duty. This can vary by state, as some will require employers to grant you paid leave during your time away. Review your state's laws to learn more.


There are some states that require your employer to allow you time off to vote. Depending on where you live, you may even be entitled to paid leave to go vote. Research your state laws to determine which type of leave you can receive.

ADA leave

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally requires your employer to let you use ADA leave for any absences that may be related to your disability. This includes both physical or mental disabilities that may limit you in certain life activities. Whether you're experiencing a short- or long-term disability, you're entitled to a certain number of hours off from work responsibilities. If your employer offers short-term disability insurance, you should be able to earn paid time off.

Related: How To Write a PTO Request Email


In addition to receiving leave for disabilities, you're also entitled to medical leave, which is protected by the FMLA. This grants you enough time off to handle either your own medical issues or the medical issues of your loved ones. Common reasons people may take this time off are if they're undergoing a serious health condition or if they're taking care of a family member or loved one who's currently experiencing a health condition.

Related: How To Write a Sick Leave Letter (With Template and Example)


Some employees may choose to enhance their skill set and knowledge level by continuing their education. This may entail leaving their current role to pursue a certification or additional degree. Most employers may let these employees take a paid or unpaid leave of absence to do this because the employee may use this additional knowledge in their current role with the company. It also grants you the ability to advance in the company and make big-picture decisions for the organization, which usually benefits your employer.

Frequently asked questions

How long does a paid leave of absence typically last?

You may take different lengths of paid leave depending on company policies, employment agreements and the reason for the leave. This break can last for a few days for personal or family emergencies to several months for medical or parental leave. Some organizations may have maximum limits on the length of paid leaves of absence.

Can you extend a paid leave of absence beyond the initially requested duration?

Extending a paid leave of absence beyond the initially requested duration often involves gaining additional permissions from your employer for the specific circumstances surrounding the leave. Employers may require additional documentation or justification for the extension and may choose to grant or deny the request. Be sure to check with your organization's specific policies to better understand the criteria necessary for extending your leave.

How far in advance should an employee request a paid leave of absence?

Employers often detail the advance notice requirement for paid leaves of absence in their employee handbooks. Generally, you submit the request as soon as you know about your need for the leave, preferably well in advance to allow sufficient time for planning and potential adjustments to work schedules. Some companies may specify a minimum notice period, such as 30 days, while others may require more or less time for notice.

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