Employee Leave of Absence: a Full Guide from A to Z

Up to today’s professional context, the definition of work has evolved throughout the years, especially regarding employee leave of absence.

It allows an employee to temporarily step away from their regular work responsibilities for different reasons such as personal, medical, family-related, or professional development reasons.

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This concept highly impacts organizational productivity, business efficiency, employee well-being, and compliance with labor laws. 

It’s essential to understand how a leave of absence proceeds because there’s a requirement to maintain a balanced work environment, promote employee retention, and ensure legal compliance.

Throughout this article, you’ll be able to explore the different types of leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and how it works.

You’ll also learn why and what are the benefits of granting a voluntary leave and discover the differences between a leave of absence and many other concepts that are sometimes viewed as similar.

If you’re seeking knowledge to establish clear leave policies or delving into the complexities of taking a leave, this article is for you. 

What is a leave of absence?

A leave of absence is a formal and temporary break from an employee’s standard duty and responsibility. During this period, the employee steps from work for personal, medical, family-related, or professional development purposes.

For any leave, it’s possible to retain some job-related benefits, such as job security, possible compensation, or healthcare coverage, depending on company policies and applicable laws.

These are requested and approved based on each company’s policies, procedures, and/or legal regulations. Depending on the circumstances, it can vary in duration, purpose, and eligibility criteria.

Types of leave

Leaves of absence are very different in terms of their purpose, duration, and eligibility, which are highly influenced by local labor laws and company policies.

Employees must discuss the terms with their company and consult Human Resources to understand the specifics.

Let’s discover the different types of leaves of absence.

1. Medical leave

This type of leave is granted for medical reasons, including illness, injury, surgery, or even recovery.

In many countries, medical leaves are protected by laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act in the United States.

2. Family or Parental leave

Usually, these leaves are granted for the birth or adoption of a child, where parents take time off to dedicate the time towards the new family member.

Related article: The best employee attendance trackers

3. Sick leave

If an employee is experiencing health issues, the sick leave allows them to take time off, and some companies offer paid sick leave, while others maintain unpaid sick leave.

4. Vacation leave

This leave focuses on granting time off for leisure, rest, or personal reasons, while the availability of paid vacation varies depending on the company and country.

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5. Unpaid leave

This happens when employees request time off without pay for personal reasons such as travel, education, or other personal matters.

6. Bereavement leave 

This leave is granted to employees who have lost a family member or a loved one. It’s mainly used to serve the purpose of proper mourning and making funeral arrangements.

7. Military leave

Employees who are members of the military may be granted leave due to their military obligations, which are often protected by laws like the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) in the United States.

8. Sabbatical leave

Some companies are empathetic and engaged with sabbatical programs allowing employees to take unpaid leave for personal development, research, and/or self-improvement.

9. Jury duty leave

Employees summoned to attend their Jury Duty are granted time off with pay since it’s a civic responsibility. 

10. Educational leave

Employees who wish to pursue further education or training to enhance their skills are granted leave that may be paid or unpaid, depending on company policies.

11. Religious leave

It’s the employees’ right to request time off for some religious holidays or practices.

12. Domestic violence or crime victims leave

Depending on the jurisdiction, employees who become victims of domestic violence or certain crimes are granted a leave to address legal and personal matters related to their situation.

13. Family and caregiver leave

Some countries have laws or policies that grant leave to employees who dedicate their lives to caring for family members or attending to family emergencies.

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What’s the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The FMLA, a federal labor law in the United States, grants eligible employees job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.

Since 1993, this law has helped employees balance their jobs with their personal needs, especially during tough lifetimes. However, it faces minimum standards to benefit from it, and some states have their version of a family and medical leave with additional benefits and protections. Here are the following critical aspects of FMLA:

  1. Eligibility

To be eligible for FMLA leave, the employee in question must work for a covered employer that includes private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public or private elementary and secondary schools. Employees must also have worked for at least 12 months and 1250 hours during those 12 months.

  1. Reasons for leave

To take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in 12 months, some of the reasons must be as follows:

  • Birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child;
  • Serious health condition of the employee’s spouse, parent, or child;
  • The employee’s serious health condition that doesn’t allow them to fulfill their job description;
  • Qualifying demands on a family member’s military service;
  • Up to 26 weeks to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness due to military service.
  1. Job protection

Through FMLA leave, the company must maintain the employee’s health insurance coverage, which assures the employee to return to the same job they left on their leave. 

  1. Notice and certification

Employees are obligated to provide notice to the company they work at and provide medical certification to support certain types of leave requests.

  1. Intermittent Leave

FMLA leave can be performed in one continuous period, intermittently, or on a reduced leave schedule for medical purposes.

  1. Retaliation and enforcement

Companies cannot fight against employees who are exercising their FMLA leave rights.

The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing this law, allowing employees to file complaints if their rights are not respected.

Who is a covered employer?

The FMLA covers certain companies based on size and type because they must meet specific criteria. Some states have their own family and medical laws that share additional benefits.

With that in mind, employers and employees must understand federal and state FMLA laws that may apply to their specific situation. Normally covered employers include:

  1. Private-sector employers

Companies must have 50 or more employees, and this requirement is for the total number of employees across the entire organization. However, even if it has 50 or more employees, individual employees may not be eligible if they don’t have worked for at least 12 months and 1250 hours within that period. 

  1. Public agencies

Federal, state, and local government employers are all covered by the FMLA, regardless of the number of employees they may have.

  1. Elementary and secondary schools

Even if they’re part of a larger school district or independent institution, public, private elementary, and secondary schools are covered by the FMLA regardless of the number of employees.

Who qualifies for an FMLA leave of absence?

To be eligible for leave, employees must have completed a minimum of 12 months of service with their employer, worked at least 1,250 hours over the past year, and be stationed at a company location with a workforce of 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

The assessment of whether an employee has fulfilled the 1,250 hours of service is conducted in accordance with the compensable work hours guidelines outlined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Even then you must follow the employer’s internal procedures such as proper notice and documentation such as medical certification.

Here are the qualifications for an FMLA leave of absence:

  1. Employer coverage

First, your employer must be a covered company under the FMLA, which usually includes private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public or private elementary and secondary schools.

  1. Employee eligibility

To become eligible, the employee must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 not consecutive months but within the last seven years. During those 12 months, the employee must have also worked at least 1250 hours.

  1. Reasons for the leave 

An employee must request a leave for one of the following reasons:

  • Birth, foster care, or adoption of a child;
  • Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a health condition;
  • Employee’s health condition;
  • Qualifying demands of a family member’s military service;
  • Care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness due to military service.

Protected leaves of absence

Protected leaves of absence refer to specific types of leave granted to employees under various labor laws or company policies that ensure job protection.

These leaves are often legally mandated or protected, which means that the employees cannot be terminated from their job. Although it varies from country, state, province, and employer policies, here are the examples of the protected leaves:

  • Family and Medical leave under FMLA in the United States, entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year for medical reasons;
  • Maternity and paternity leave that provide job protection to new parents to bond with the new family member;
  • Paid or unpaid sick leave for employees with their illness or to care for a sick family member;
  • Laws like the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act in the United States protect employees who have been called into active military duty;
  • Employees are entitled to job protection to cope with the loss of a family member or a loved one;
  • Victims of domestic violence or some crimes have the right to protected leave for medical treatment and legal proceedings;
  • People who fulfill their civic duty by going to Jury Duty have job protection;
  • Employees who need to take time to testify as witnesses must benefit from the employers’ job protection;
  • Employees who need to observe religious holidays and practices also benefit from a protected leave of absence;
  • If they need it for educational purposes or training programs, these employees are entitled to job protection towards their educational leave;
  • If they’re injured on the job, they can get job protection to recover and receive medical treatment.

Why grant a voluntary leave of absence?

It’s important to analyze the impact when granting voluntary leaves of absence when it comes to their operations, staffing needs, and ability to meet business objectives.

It’s also crucial to have clear policies and procedures, ensuring the organization’s and employee’s needs are met.

Here are some of the reasons why to grant a voluntary leave of absence to an employee under the rights reasons and circumstances:

  • Employee’s request for personal reasons such as pursuing further education, traveling, dealing with family matters, or taking a sabbatical for personal and/or professional development;
  • Health and well-being might be the reasons behind a voluntary leave, meaning that there could be a medical condition or illness that requires a recovery period;
  • New parents who request voluntary leaves of absence to bond with their newborn or adopted child;
  • Some employees request a voluntary leave of absence to engage in educational opportunities, attend workshops, or participate in job-related training programs;
  • A voluntary leave of absence can promote a healthy work-life balance which can improve employee morale and reduce burnout;
  • Time off to care for family members with serious health conditions is one of the reasons why there should be a voluntary leave of absence;
  • Some employers might be legally obligated to grant voluntary leaves in accordance with labor laws or regulations, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States;
  • When you’re supporting your employees’ personal and professional pursuits with voluntary leaves of absence you can easily promote employee engagement and loyalty.

Benefits of granting a voluntary leave of absence

Granting a voluntary leave of absence can represent many different benefits for both the employees and the companies. From positive workplace morale to productivity, here are some of the benefits involved:

  1. Improved morale

Offering the flexibility of a voluntary leave of absence demonstrates the capacity of empathy for their well-being and work-life balance, which ultimately enhances employee morale.

  1. Burnout reduction

It allows the employees to recharge and reduce the stress they might be feeling, which will prevent burnout symptoms.

  1. Employee retention

Employees who feel supported through the voluntary leave of absence are part of the percentage of employee retention in companies. They are loyal due to their respect towards their critical life events or personal development pursuits.

  1. Productivity improvement 

Employees who take voluntary leaves of absence might return to their jobs more motivated and engaged in a work routine. Also, they might bring new skills, perspectives, and ideas that contribute to the growth and development of the company.

Read also: Productivity tips for employees

  1. Support 

A voluntary leave of absence allows employees to feel a wave of support during critical life events such as childbirth, adoption, family caregiving, or personal health challenges. 

  1. Legal compliance

Voluntary leaves of absence feature legal requirements sometimes according to some labor laws, which provide for job-protected leaves. It’s important to comply with those laws to avoid legal complications.

  1. Positive reputation

Companies with the empathy to offer voluntary leaves of absence are well-known in the workforce industry. 

  1. Flexible workforce management

These types of leaves allow organizations to be prepared to easily adapt to different work dynamics without layoffs and terminations.

  1. Diverse and inclusive workplace

This support of employees on personal and professional pursuits contributes to a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

  1. Compassion and empathy

Granting voluntary leaves of absence demonstrates a deep understanding and compassion towards personal circumstances such as illness and family events.

What’s the difference between mandatory and voluntary leaves of absence?

Mandatory leaves are employer-initiated, often due to workplace issues. They can involve various compensation levels. Voluntary leaves are employee-initiated, driven by personal needs or development goals, and are typically unpaid.

Both provide job protection, but under different circumstances. Mandatory leaves hinge on investigations, while voluntary leaves guarantee job reinstatement with agreed-upon conditions.

Mandatory Leave of AbsenceVoluntary Leave of Absence
Typically initiated by the employer Initiated by the employee
Commonly due to disciplinary actions, workplace investigations, allegations of workplace misconduct, harassment, or discriminationCommonly due to personal needs, medical reasons, family responsibilities, personal development, education, travel 
Duration determined by the circumstances that led to the leaveDuration determined by the employee’s request and policies
Pay can be full, partial, or even unpaidPay is often unpaid although some employers offer paid leave
Ensures job protection unless an investigation turns to more radical consequencesEnsures job protection and the employee returns to the equivalent job as long as they agree with the conditions

What is the difference between time off and leave of absence?

Time off refers to short, often paid absences for a few hours or days, requested informally with minimal impact on workflow.

Leaves of absence are more extended periods, ranging from weeks to months, and may be paid or unpaid. They require formal requests, and comprehensive documentation, and have a significant impact on workflow. Unlike time off, leaves of absence offer legal job protection, ensuring employees return under agreed conditions.

Time OffLeave of Absence
Refers to short periods of absence such as a few hours or daysRefers to a more extended period away from work such as weeks or months
Time off may be paid especially when using accrued paid time or vacation daysLeave of absence can be paid or unpaid depending on the organization’s policies and laws
Informal request with a straightforward processFormal request that requires documentation that needs compliance with company policies and legal requirements
Less impact on the workflow of an organizationSignificant impact on the organization’s workflow
It may not require extensive documentationWith job protection, the employee returns to the equivalent job as long as they agree with the conditions

How to manage employee absence leave? 

Once you’ve granted an employee absence leave it’s essential to maintain productivity, while supporting employee well-being, and ensuring labor law compliance.

Once you’ve gone through the management steps you’ll have an organized and flexible management system that works efficiently. Here’s how you can manage an employee absence leave properly:

  1. Create clear policies and procedures

Make sure that you develop policies and procedures that are invested for requests, approvals, and tracking of the employee’s absence leave, consistent with labor laws.

  1. Communicate policies properly

Communicate every policy to your employees and ensure they understand every step of the procedure, from the requests to the obligations.

  1. Create centralized leave management systems

Establish a centralized system to help you track and manage employee absence leave. It might be a software solution or a structured manual system, whatever suits the processes you might have at your company.

  1. Assemble a responsible team

Put together a group of people such as Human Resources to manage employee absence leave. It’s important to keep in mind policies and labor laws.

  1. Train managers and supervisors

You must educate the company’s managers and supervisors about the leave policies, and their roles while managing the requests.

By the end of training, they should know how to properly handle employee requests and possible approvals and denials of their request.

  1. Turn leave request forms into a standard action

Create a layout where it clearly defines a leave request form, for employees to complete when requesting leave. It should have the reason, requested dates, and required documentation.

  1. Keep everything documented

Keep records of every leave request, approval, denial, and any communication that might concern this subject. In keeping documentation you’ll have safety in resolving disputes and assure law compliance.

  1. Provide legal notices

When jurisdictions with laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act in the United States, offer employees legally required notices about their rights and responsibilities regarding leave. 

  1. Establish job protection

If it’s possible, make sure that you tell your employees that their job will be protected throughout the leave of absence. Be flexible with temporary replacements or workload distribution to maintain productivity.

  1. Maintain privacy with medical documentation

Handle medical documentation with care and make sure to keep it confidential because it might be necessary to work with a healthcare provider to verify medical conditions.

  1. Be open and communicative

Keep your lines of communication open with the employees on leave and check in periodically to approach them about the status and offer support.

  1. Plan for coverage

Plan for staffing coverage during absences through employee cross-training, temporary staff, and workload redistribution.

  1. Return-to-work interviews

Have return-to-work interviews with employees to discuss their transition back to their jobs, and discuss any necessary accommodations and adjustments.

  1. Review and improve

Review your absence leave management processes to see where you can improve. Check-in with your employees to see how their feedback is towards leave management.


In conclusion, it’s possible to assess that the theme of absence leave is multifaceted and considered a critical element of the workforce. Its extended range of types of leaves, from medical to personal, features its aspects and legal implications. However, mastering this concept is crucial to promoting a healthy work-life balance, enhancing productivity, and ensuring compliance with labor laws and company policies.

A clear leave management system that keeps in mind the needs of the employees as much as the companies is the way to go. It allows both parties to feel perfectly safe with support and flexibility for the professionals, and the organizations prepared to plan for staffing, maintain operational efficiency, and uphold legal obligations.

As you’ve seen that it’s possible, efficient leave management establishes a culture of empathy, understanding, and employee well-being. You’ll notice increased employee morale, reduced burnout, and a more inclusive workplace. As the concept of work continues to adapt to new changes every day, the companies that prioritize this strategic management of employee absence leave are the ones that build a good reputation for potential employees. 


Who qualifies for a leave of absence?

Only employees who can meet specific eligibility criteria, such as length of service, hours worked, and the reason for the leave. Although it varies depending on company policies and applicable labor laws.

How long can leaves of absence last? / Can leaves of absence be extended?

Leave of absence varies in duration which is determined by the reason for the leave, company policies, and applicable labor laws. From a few hours to days or even several weeks or months, it can also be extended for longer periods. That can only happen when there’s a valid reason for it, subject to approval by the company and compliance with the policies and laws.

What happens after the leave of absence ends?

When it ends the employee returns to their normal duties and responsibilities. Typically it’s required to reinstate their benefits and job status if only the employee meets the conditions that are required to continue the process.

Do you keep insurance during your leave of absence?

In most cases, employees can maintain their health insurance coverage, especially if the leave is covered by laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States. However, it may vary depending on company policies and applicable laws.

Is FMLA only for unpaid leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act in the United States provides job-protected leave, but it is generally unpaid. It requires that covered companies allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for family and medical reasons.

Is leave of absence unpaid?

The fact that it’s paid or unpaid depends on company policies, labor laws, and the specific reason for the leave. Some leaves, like the Family and Medical Leave Act in the United States, provide unpaid job-protected leave, while others may offer paid leave options.

Can leave of absence be denied?

Companies have the right to deny leave if the employees don’t meet company policies or legal requirements and if the reason is not valid. 

What can I do if a leave of absence is denied?

Employees can take it to Human Resources or their supervisor to understand the reasons for denial. It’s also important to explore different options, discuss paid time off if available, along with seeking legal counsel. 

Does leave of absence mean fired?

While a leave of absence is a temporary period away from work for various reasons, firing implies permanent termination of said employment. 

Does leave of absence affect the mortgage?

It can affect a mortgage application and even the existing mortgage that you may have.

Lenders assess an applicant’s income and employment status when considering a mortgage, so a significant reduction or extended leave may impact on loan eligibility.

A leave of absence can potentially affect a mortgage application or existing mortgage. 

Leave of absence vs. short-term disability

A leave of absence features a range of types of leaves that may or may not be paid. Short-term disability is a specific type of leave that typically provides income replacement when an employee is not able to work due to disability or illness.

Is a leave of absence considered unemployment?

A leave of absence is not considered unemployment because they are not without a job.

It’s only a temporary period of absence in which an employee retains their job but is not actively working for reasons such as medical leave or personal leave.

Can I take a leave of absence due to stress?

Many companies make sure to recognize the importance of mental health as part of an important reason for a proper leave of absence.

You must speak with your employers and check the company’s policies and applicable laws for guidance on how to request and manage such leave.

Leave of Absence vs. FMLA

FMLA is a federal law that provides eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons while a leave of absence is a term that features multiple types of extended time away from work, which may or may not be related to FMLA-qualifying reasons.

Leave of absence vs. sabbatical

A leave of absence is a general term for extended time away from work due to personal, medical, or professional development reasons. A sabbatical is a specific type of leave of absence taken specifically for personal and professional growth, research, or education. 

Leave of absence vs. resignation

While a leave of absence is a temporary period on which an employee is away from work, resignation is the voluntary act of ending the employment permanently. 

Can I fire someone who keeps attempting to extend their leave of absence?

The extension of any leave of absence must be done always in compliance with company policies and labor laws. There must be open communication to consider the reasons for the extensions while seeking legal guidance to gather the best advice. 

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