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Leave of Absence for Employees: Key Thoughts for Managers

If an employee needs time off work to complete their education, perform military service, deal with a medical issue or the loss of a loved one or serve on a jury, they’ll likely request a leave of absence. Some leaves are protected under law, while others are at the discretion of the employer.

Learn more about what a leave of absence is, the different types of leaves and what you should include in your company’s leave of absence policy.

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What is a leave of absence?

A leave of absence is an extended period of paid or unpaid time off from an employee’s work-related duties. Employees might request a personal leave of absence to devote their full attention to a personal situation or legally protected commitments outside of work. Whether the leave of absence is paid or unpaid depends on the employer’s leave of absence policy, as well as applicable state and federal regulations.

Related:Absent Managers: An Introduction

Leave of absence types

There are two kinds of leaves of absence: voluntary and mandatory. Mandatory absences are governed by federal and state law. Your company is legally required to grant mandatory leaves to employees, as long as certain conditions are met.

Voluntary leaves of absence are discretionary leaves granted to employees who request extended time off for special circumstances. You aren’t required to provide voluntary leaves of absence to your employees, but doing so can boost employee morale, help with staff retention and help your company attract qualified candidates.

The most common types of mandatory and voluntary leaves of absence include:

Medical Leave of Absence

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) include regulations that ensure employers are granting employees the required amount of time off to deal with medical issues. Under these two Acts, employees can take medical leave to deal with their own medical issues or to tend to a loved one’s health and medical problems.

The FMLA applies to businesses with 50 or more employees, where at least 50 employees work 20 or more weeks in each calendar year. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees aren’t required to follow FMLA regulations, but they may do so on a voluntary basis.

To qualify for up to 26 weeks off underFMLA leave, your employees need to work at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the leave.

This legally mandated leave of absence can be used to:

  • Recover from childbirth, manage the adoption of a child or support the placement of a foster child into the employee’s care
  • Deal with a serious health condition
  • Support an immediate family member’s medical needs
  • Care for a family member or veteran who has a serious injury or illness

Military leave of absence

To qualify for military leave, employees must be either inactive or active members of the United States military. If military members receive orders to serve in their respective branch, their job is protected under law, regardless of the length of their deployment.

To qualify for a military leave of absence, the employee must provide you with written or verbal notice. You may also ask for written confirmation of their status with the military and verify the details of their leave request with the employee’s commanding officer.

Jury duty

Jury duty leave laws vary on a state-by-state basis, although most states mandate that employers must provide eligible employees with a job-protected leave of absence for jury duty.

Depending on where your business is located, you may be required to continue paying your employees’ wages or salary while they are serving as a juror. You may also be prohibited from forcing your employees to use their vacation time or other earned paid days off to perform jury duty.

Educational leave of absence

Employees who wish to continue their education may want to apply for an educational leave of absence. This type of unpaid, voluntary leave gives employees the opportunity to pursue an additional degree or certification while enjoying the peace of mind that comes with knowing their current job is secure.

As an employer, it’s up to you to decide if you’d like to create an educational leave of absence policy or if you want to consider this type of leave on a case-by-case basis. If you choose to offer educational leaves, be sure to define this leave of absence meaning in your employee handbook, so employees know what type of education is, and isn’t, included.

For example, you may want to specify that educational leaves will only be granted to employees who are pursuing job-related skills and certification. You should also specify the maximum length of the leave and outline the conditions under which an educational leave of absence may be granted.

Bereavement leave of absence

Also known as a personal leave of absence, bereavement leave provides your employees with time off work following the loss of a family member or close friend.

You may opt to also make a personal leave of absence available to any employee who is dealing with:

  • The loss of a beloved pet
  • Termination of a close personal relationship, such as a marriage or marriage-like relationship
  • Trauma resulting from a physical or sexual assault or a property crime that directly impacted the employee or their immediate family
  • A recent diagnosis of a life-threatening, or life-altering, condition or disease

Keep in mind that grief isn’t linear, so you may need to be flexible around the length of bereavement leaves. You should also consider including a return to work plan for those who take time off for personal reasons, as these employees may need to transition back to work on a part-time, or gradual, basis.

Tips for managing and coordinating an employee leave of absence

When managing and coordinating an employee leave of absence policy, there are several best practices that employers should follow. You’ll want to add the leave of absence policy to your employee handbook, draft request forms and keep your employees updated about the status of their application.

Add your leave of absence policy to your employee handbook

To ensure that all employees understand your leave of absence policy, you’ll want to include pertinent information about it in your employee handbook.

When adding information about the policy to the employee handbook, you should:

  • Clearly define your leave of absence policy
  • Describe the qualifying factors for each type of leave of absence your company offers
  • Highlight which leaves are paid and which are unpaid
  • Include instructions on how employees can apply for a leave of absence
  • Let your employees know who is responsible for granting or declining voluntary leaves of absence and whether you’re offering an appeal process
  • Outline the steps employees need to take when applying for a leave

Related:What is Absenteeism in the Workplace? An Introduction

Draft leave of absence request forms

It’s easier for you to organize and manage your employees’ leaves of absence by creating a leave of absence request form for them to fill out and submit. Customize your leave request form, and have your legal team review it to ensure that it’s compliant with all relevant labor laws and regulations.

Be sure this form allows space for applicants to indicate the type of leave they’re requesting, as well as the expected dates of their leave.

Keep employees updated regarding their leave requests

Regardless of whether a voluntary leave is denied or approved, be sure to keep your employees informed regarding the progress of their application. If their leave request is denied, explain the reasons why and consider negotiating a different option that works better for both you and the employee.

You may be able to work out a modified schedule or provide a remote work option that gives your employee the flexibility they need from a leave. If you approve their leave of absence, collaborate with the employee to develop a plan to ensure their work is covered while they’re gone and discuss their return-to-work plan.

Leave of absence FAQs

The answers to these leave of absence frequently asked questions can provide you with more information about creating a leave of absence policy.

What qualifies for a leave of absence?

To qualify for a mandatory leave of absence, employees must meet the criteria for either a medical leave of absence, military leave of absence or in some states, to perform jury duty. The criteria for a voluntary leave of absence is up to each individual employer. Many companies offer personal leaves of absence to employees who are grieving the loss of a loved one, who want to upgrade their skills and educational qualifications or who simply want to take an extended vacation or sabbatical without resigning from their job.

Can an employer ask an employee to take a leave of absence?

Employers may ask that an employee take a leave of absence during times when fewer human resources are required, such as during a slowdown in production. An employer may also suggest that a poor-performing employee take a leave of absence to address personal issues that may be interfering with their work duties.

How long can an employee take a leave of absence from work?

Leave of absence length depends on the employer’s policy and federal and state law. Mandatory leaves let employees takeup to 12 weeks off within an annual period. Employees are also legally allowed to keep their healthcare benefits for those 12 weeks, as long as they continue paying their required contribution amounts.

Is a leave of absence the same as FMLA?

A leave of absence and leaves covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, are two different types of leaves. An employee’s leave of absence is the period of time their employer allows them to take off from their work duties. FMLA leaves are unpaid, health-related job-protected absences from covered workplaces, such as public agencies, elementary and secondary schools and companies with 50 or more employees.

Can a leave of absence be denied?

Yes. As an employer, you have the right to deny a leave of absence request, as long as the type of leave isn’t governed by state or federal law. Granting voluntary leaves, such as educational and personal leaves of absence, can be disruptive to your business, but in the long run, a flexible leave of absence policy can help bolster staff loyalty and entice quality candidates to join your organization.

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Frequently asked questions about leaves of absence

How long can an employee take a leave of absence from work?

A leave of absence can legally be denied if the reason for the leave of absence is considered voluntary and isn’t governed by state or federal law.

Granting leaves of absence allows employees time to handle their personal duties so they can return to work feeling prepared to focus on their work responsibilities. Remain patient with your employees and be willing to work with them as they request their leaves of absence.

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