A comprehensive guide to employee leave of absence

A leave of absence is a period of time when an employee is permitted to be absent from work without losing the status of employee. Find out the best practices and the tips about handling LOA from this HR guide.

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Introduction

Any manager knows that it is difficult to make a profit when your employees aren’t at work, but even the most hard-working employee will occasionally miss a workday.

As an employer, you have to find solutions to minimize the effects of an employee's leave of absence on your business. A study from 2015 found that a single employee’s absenteeism can cost a company as much as $3,600 per year, according to HR.com. While reducing the impact of the absences, you still have to provide time away from work needed by the employees, in accordance with the in-force laws protecting employees.

A leave of absence is a period of time when an employee is permitted to be absent from work without losing the status of employee.

Generally, employees ask for a leave of absence in order to deal with unusual or unexpected personal circumstances.

That is why employee leave of absence is always a sensitive topic for human resources (HR) professionals and it should be approached with tact and diplomacy. There are many aspects to be considered, it requires a high level of knowledge and understanding of the legal requirements and you, as a manager, you have to practice caution to guard against costly litigation that may arise.

Keeping track of all types of leaves, as well as knowing what is required of you, can be a daunting task, which is why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to employee leave. Next, you will learn what to do when employees request a leave of absence from work and how to minimize the impact of their leave on your business.


What is a Leave of Absence (LOA)?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a leave of absence represents formal permission to be away from work or the period of time that you are allowed to be away:

  • Indefinite/ paid/ temporary leave of absence
  • Be on/take a leave of absence from something

Therefore, a leave of absence is the time allowed away from the workplace, generally requested by an employee, to cover unusual circumstances occurring in the employee’s life. The leave of absence is used when the employee’s time off from work is not covered under an employer’s existing benefits such as sick leave, paid vacation, paid holidays and paid time off.

Unlike standard paid time off (PTO), which employees use for short-term absences such as sick days or vacations, a leave of absence is used for long-term absences that exceed their allotted paid time off. Generally, a leave of absence is unpaid, but some employers might pay for part or all of the time off. Some employers may also require the employee to exhaust the remaining paid time off before starting your official leave of absence.

However, as a rule, application for an unpaid leave of absence often occurs when an employee has used up his or her existing paid time off. The unpaid leave of absence does not extend the employee's pay during the leave of absence but it ensures other continuity that is critical for employees. For example, an unpaid leave of absence allows an employee to continue coverage by certain employer-provided benefits.


What are the most common types of leave of absence?

There are two types of leaves:

  • Excused/ voluntary leaves;
  • Unexcused leaves.

Excused/ voluntary leaves

Whether the laws surrounding these leaves of absence apply to an organization is often based on the number of employees working for that company and where an employee is working. The employer must grant job-protected leave to eligible employees in these situations, but the employees should know that they cannot abuse this right, they should not apply for leave of absence whenever they want, but when they need it most.

Quite a few situations can take place that requires the employee to request time away from work. The request may take place in advance, or occur at the spur of the moment. Fortunately, many employers are willing to approve these types of absences and ensure that they do not have any type of negative impact on the attendance record of the employee.


Here are some of the more common examples of excused absences:

1. Sick Time

No matter how diligent and strong your employees are, they still can get sick at some point. Therefore, it is not unusual for employers to extend the sick time granted to employees who are out for any type of health-related issue. 

As a manager, you have to make it clear to the employee using too much sick time that you can’t operate a steady business without their presence. Let your employees know that you care about their well-being and want to provide support, if doing so will be helpful. If an employee is experiencing excessive absenteeism, ask if there is something if there is any way you, as an organization, can assist.

Sick time can be utilized when the employee is suffering from any condition that would impair the ability to perform the duties associated with the position. If the nature of the health issue would also place other employees at risk, it is generally recommended that the employee take a day or several days off until the problem is resolved.

Most companies calculate the number of sick days an employee currently has available based on attendance. For example, the employee may accrue one sick day for every 30 days worked. Other company policies include assigning the employee a number of days with the commencement of a new calendar year.

Before requesting a leave of absence, it is important to study the company’s policy on leave of absence. During this process, you learn whether you are eligible for a Family Medical Leave Act and if your employer is likely to grant your request.

Here are some reasons an employee might take FMLA leave:

  • For temporary incapacity, caused by sickness or accidents outside working hours and place;
  • For preventing sickness and recovery work capacity, exclusively for situations resulted following work accidents or professional sicknesses;
  • For child birth or adoption;
  • For taking care of a sick child;
  • For maternal risk.

Sick time can be used when the employee needs to undergo some type of outpatient procedure, has a severe cold, or must be in the hospital for a few days to recover from an accident or some type of invasive surgery. Using sick days ensures that the income of the employee is not reduced. Knowing this makes it easier for the employee to concentrate on getting well and not worrying about losing the job or finances.

If your employer does not have a policy on leave of absence or does not want to grant you a leave, taking the time off without their approval could be considered job abandonment or resignation—both of which are grounds for termination. Always consult with your organization’s human resources department before writing a leave of absence request or temporarily leaving your job.


2. Personal Time

Another common form of absence from work is the use of personal time. Unlike sick leave, personal days can be utilized for any reason that the employee deems necessary. Perhaps the employee has been working hard on a project that is now completed. Feeling mentally drained, the employee requests to take a couple of personal days as a way of creating a long weekend. During that time, the employee has the chance to recharge and return to work ready to take on the next challenge.

There are many reasons that might motivate employees to take advantage of your company’s leave policy. Pay attention to those employees who are disengaged from their work and those who frequently take Mondays and Fridays off, talk to them, try to find out the real reasons behind their actions.

Here are four of the reasons for employee’s disengagement and frequently missing work:

  • A lack of appreciation at work;
  • No opportunity for career advancement;
  • A lack of autonomy;
  • The employee's value is different from the company's.


3. Vacation Days

Vacation days are another example of excused absences. Depending on company policies and procedures, employees will need to request vacation days well several months in advance. This allows the employer time to evaluate the request, make arrangements for the duties of the employee to be covered during the desired timeframe, and in general, make sure granting the vacation time will not interfere with the day-to-day operation of the business.

The amount of vacation time any employee receives is determined by company policy, collective bargaining agreements, or even, especially in small companies, an informal agreement between an employee and management. Most of the time, the amount of vacation time allotted to each employee is often based on how long the individual has been with the business. For example, someone who has been with the company for a couple of years may receive an additional day of paid vacation annually. Those who have been with the company for five years or more may have two, three or possibly four weeks of paid vacation

There are some rules that apply, however. When employers do offer vacation, it has to be offered equitably. So, companies can't discriminate based on race, gender, religion, or other protected characteristics when giving time off from work.


4. Family and Medical Leave

Certain types of medical issues involving the employee or a close relative may require a longer period to resolve. Rather than using personal days for these events, the employee is able to apply for and receive what is known as family and medical leave.

As an employee, you may be eligible for Family Medical Leave Act if:

  • You work for an employer covered by FMLA;
  • You have concluded an Individual Labor Agreement with your employer;
  • You have worked for your employer for a minimum of 12 months;
  • You have worked a minimum of 6 months in the 12 months prior to taking leave.

In addition to the above-mentioned conditions, there must be also certain circumstances to be met for the medical leave to be approved:

  • Medical complications or conditions preventing the employee from performing their job up to standard;
  • A serious medical condition or disability that prevents an immediate family member of the employee from being able to care for themselves;
  • The birth of the employee’s child and/or the time required to provide care for the newborn in the days following its birth; the birth of a child means a significant amount of adjustment for the new parents. New mothers need time to recover from birth and to spend time with the child. Fathers may be granted leave to take care of the mothers and help with the tasks needed to care for a newborn. In this scenario, the approved leave may last for several months or a maximum of 2 years (3 years for children with disabilities);
  • The placement and/or care of a newly adopted child or a child from foster care.

At times, the medical leave is granted because the employee is dealing with a health crisis. An operation and the subsequent recovery period may mean the individual is unable to work for a few weeks. Granting the leave ensures that the employee has a job to come back to once the attending physician releases the patient.


5. Bereavement or Sympathy Leave

A bereavement leave policy is the description of the company’s practices in allowing paid and unpaid employee time off from work when a family member, relative, or friend dies. While an organization will want to make every effort to work with employees on an individual basis during these tough emotional times, you, as an HR manager, will want to have a basic policy in place so that employees know what they can expect from you in terms of bereavement leave time off and bereavement pay.

In other words, it is not uncommon for an employer to grant a certain number of days off as bereavement leave times to an employee when a close relative passes away. This time period is required for making funeral arrangements, attending the funeral and burial, dealing with the deceased’s possessions and will, and any ancillary matters that employees must address when a loved one dies. Most companies have provisions to extend this type of excused absence from work when the deceased is a spouse, child, or parent. Some extend the coverage when the deceased is a sibling or grandparent.

Companies provide paid bereavement time of approximately three days for the death of an immediate family member and one day off for other relatives and friends. This is because employers assume that for more distant relatives and friends, less personal time is needed beyond attending a funeral or memorial service and meal.


6. Military Leave

If an employee is called to active duty, such as the activation of a reserve unit, the absence is excused. During the time away, the pay of the employee may remain at the full amount, or be reduced based on the type of compensation provided by the reserve unit. Many companies have policies that ensure the employees can return to their positions once they complete their tours of duty.


Unexcused absences

Not all forms of absences are excused. There are times when an employee may seek to take time off and be denied. When the time is taken anyway, the employee is subject to some type of disciplinary action.

For example, failing to report to work and ensure that a supervisor is notified within a reasonable time frame may result in no pay for the day. It may also lead to a short suspension owing to the failure to comply with company policies.

Essentially, any absence that is not covered under the policies and procedures of the employer may be classed as unexcused. Since this type of activity does disrupt the day-to-day function of the business, the employer may take action up to and including termination.

Understanding what constitutes an excused absence from work and how to go about obtaining that permission is important. Doing so helps to preserve the relationship between the employer and the employee, and increase the odds that the two parties will continue to work together for many years to come.


How to request a leave of absences?

Requesting and obtaining a leave of absence when you work in a casual environment can be as simple as saying to your boss, "I need a leave of absence. Would it be possible to take a leave from work for two months?"

Inmore formal workplaces, you may need to frame your request per company policy. The company may have guidelines for who is eligible for a leave of absence and when and how often it can be taken. Some employers have a Leave of Absence policy that clearly states which circumstances are covered, as well as specific requirements and a process for applying.

Always consult with your organization’s human resources professionals before writing a leave of absence request or temporarily leaving your job, be sure you know your company's policies. You should also have a well-practiced explanation on hand. Make a decision before approaching the topic about what your next move will be if your request is turned down.

Here are some steps you need to follow when requesting a leave of absence:

  1. Know your rights before scheduling a discussion with your employer
    Familiarize yourself with your employer’s policy regarding leaves of absence and determine if your situation is addressed under the policy. Please read the “Excused/ voluntary leaves” for more information.

  2. Give your employer as much time as possible prior to your leave
    Advance notice will make it easier for your employer to fill the void left by your departure and to make the required arrangements for your tasks to be taken over by the available staff. These will allow your employer to digest the request and make him/ her more likely to accept your request.

  3. Put your request in writing
    Carefully compose a letter to your supervisor and be as detailed and transparent as possible. Because some employers may ask for a doctor’s note, you may want to have a document signed by your physician ahead of time. If you do not feel comfortable sharing the details of your circumstances, you can request a leave using more generic terms such as “personal reasons” or “medical reasons.”You can submit your request via email prior to your in-person meeting. Be sure to include anything you're willing or able to do to ease the transition including training your replacement, writing a procedure manual, and fielding questions while you're gone.

  4. Start the leave of absence process with your immediate supervisorYou don't want your direct supervisor to hear the news from HR or upper management first. Additionally, you shouldn’t mention your desire to take a leave of absence to coworkers until you clear it with your manager. Word can spread fast in an office and for the best response, you should talk to your immediate supervisor before broaching the topic with anyone else.

  5. Don't provide any legal imperatives with your initial request 
    Let your employer feel that they're in control and can enable you to take the leave out of goodwill. Outline your good collaboration and why do you absolutely need this leave. Only later, if your employer shows no understanding and if necessary, you can invoke any legal protection later on with the assistance of your HR department, but legality should not come up in your first request.

  6. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your direct supervisor
    Be sure to schedule time as soon as you know you will need to take extended leave, and when your boss is the least stressed or overworked. If you ask for a leave of absence when your boss is feeling overwhelmed, he or she may refuse you right away. By giving them notice, they will have enough time to plan for your absence. This might include hiring a contractor, distributing your workload among other team members, shifting project timelines and making sure the transition to and from your leave of absence goes smoothly for all parties.
    Be tactful and patient Yes, it’s important to provide as much lead time as possible, but you should also be strategic when presenting your request.

  7. Consider whether there are any alternatives (flexible hours, work from home)
    If a partial leave will enable you to meet your goals, explore the feasibility of reducing your hours or take on flexible hours. In some cases, a partial leave is preferable for all involved. A part-time proposal may be more acceptable to your employer.
    In some cases, if you are able to work, you can negotiate another arrangement with your employer. For example, you might work from home or telecommuting.
    Consider a temporary work-from-home arrangement rather than a full leave. For example, if you need to care for a sick family member, telecommuting might be ideal. Or, perhaps you work from home for four days a week and come in one day for a weekly check-in or for meetings. This way you can still earn income and your supervisor may not need to delegate your work.
    Have a variety of alternatives in mind that you can present if your employer is open to considering other options.

  8. If possible, provide a clear start and end dates
    If you are able, identify when your leave of absence will begin and end, so your supervisor has the comfort of knowing when you will return. Your request will likely go over much better if you can provide some idea as to when you will return. In some situations, such as when you are experiencing a medical problem or acting as the primary caregiver to a loved one, you may not know when you will be able to return to work. However, if you can't provide an exact date, it's still better to give your employer a general timeframe of how long you expect to be gone so they can determine a plan for covering your work while you are away.

  9. Plan your finances prior to filing your request
    Make sure you can pay your bills without the normal cash flow from your job. You will usually be able to withdraw a request for a leave for financial reasons, but you should avoid the embarrassment if possible.

  10. Meet with an HR representative to explore the implications to your benefits
    If you're taking a leave for reasons covered by the FMLA, your employer will be obligated to continue providing health care coverage. However, you will still be responsible for the same employee contribution to the premium that you paid prior to your leave.

  11. Communicating your leave of absence
    Decide with your employer to determine how and when is best to communicate your leave to the rest of your team. Your employer might have a specific process for this, so follow their instructions when communicating. While some employers might communicate it to all of your colleagues, others might just speak with those that work directly with you.

  12. Plan your next steps prior to submitting your request 
    If your employer says no to your leave of absence, will you continue with your job or will you need to leave permanently? The next steps will vary significantly depending on your reasons for the leave, and if you are filing the request out of wanting or out of need. Either way, you should have some idea in mind as to how you will respond if your request is denied.
Note: Consider also using a absence managent system for tracking absences in your business with minimum effort.


Examples of leave of absence letters

Example #1 - Medical leave of absence - 1 month

Dear Mr. Employer,

I am writing to request a one-month medical leave of absence beginning Monday, September 10 and ending Wednesday, October 10. I will be having surgery—my surgeon has ordered a minimum three-week recovery period (see doctor’s signed recommendation attached.)

I am happy to assist in handling any necessary preparations before beginning my leave, including training colleagues on upcoming projects. Thank you so much for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Your employee

Medical leave of absence - Sample



Example #2 - Leave of absence - personal reasons - 10 days

Dear Ms. Employer,

I am submitting this request for a leave of absence to tend to important personal matters at the end of next month. If possible, I would like to take my leave beginning March 25 and return to the office on April 5, 20XX.

I can make myself available intermittently to answer questions via phone or email, and am happy to do whatever necessary to ensure a smooth transition before my leave begins.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your employee

Leave of absence - personal reasons - Sample



Example #3 - Leave of absence - personal reasons - 1 week

Dear Mr./Ms. Employer:

I would like to request a one-week leave of absence for personal reasons. If possible, I would like to leave work on July 1 and return on July 7.

If approved, I will be traveling during this time period, but I would be glad to assist with any questions via email or phone.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your employee

Leave of absence - personal reasons - Sample 2





Wrapping up

Of course, there are other types of leave of absence options beside those presented in this guide that you can offer to your employees, but at the end of day, it is very important that your company’s goals meet the employee’s need.

While employee absence can have huge impacts on a business, and despite an employer’s best efforts at minimizing the time employees spend away from work, life happens, and it is inevitable that employees will find themselves in circumstances that require them to take some time off work.

Knowing the situations when you are required to grant your employees a leave of absence not only helps to keep your employees loyal, happy and productive, it can also keep you from finding yourself and your company facing costly legal suits for not complying with regulations pertaining to employee leave of absence.

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