Everything You Need to Know About a Leave of Absence Policy

sick leave

Business owners know that it’s difficult to maintain high productivity and engagement levels when employees aren’t present at work. But there are instances in which team members need to take time away from their jobs, whether to recover from a short-term illness or to manage a longer-term need. For this reason, it’s vital to have a policy in place that outlines how employees can take leave.

What is a Leave of Absence Policy?

A leave of absence policy outlines the regulations for employees who need to take time off of work for a longer period of time. It’s typically incorporated into a broader absence management policy. Workers may need to take leave for various reasons, including:

  • Caring for a family member
  • Recovering from an illness, injury, or surgical procedure
  • Caring for a new or recently adopted child
  • Mourning the loss of a family member
  • Managing mental health needs

Federal and state laws split leaves of absence into two main categories: voluntary and mandatory. Voluntary leave is offered as a courtesy through the leave of absence policy, allowing eligible employees to take time off. Mandatory leave is governed by legislation like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), military leave, jury duty, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and others. Unless the leave is protected under a law, it may not come with job protection.

Taking a leave of absence may allow an employee to use their accrued paid time off (PTO), or it may be unpaid. The leave of absence policy should dictate this requirement, along with other stipulations around taking an extended period of time away from work.

Types of Leave

There are various types of leave that employees may need to take while working with an organization. Explore these types and how to include them in your company leave of absence policy.

Short-Term Health Leave Related to Illness

If an employee becomes ill, they will likely need to take time off to recover. Minor illnesses may require only a day or two for recovery, while other sicknesses may require multiple days. Typically, these are considered short-term leaves of absence.

Some companies offer paid sick leave, which allows an employee to take time off to recover from sickness and get paid. Others may provide general paid time off (PTO), which the employee can use at their discretion. A short-term health leave related to illness may require taking unpaid time off.

Long-Term Health Leave Related to Surgery, Injury, or Major Medical Diagnosis

A long-term health-related leave of absence typically involves a major medical diagnosis, surgical procedure, or serious injury. Such a health incident may require an employee to take multiple weeks or even months off to recover.

Since health issues are often unexpected, it’s important to address how your organization will handle related leave of absence requests in the company policy. Some health needs may qualify under the FMLA, which means the employee’s job would be protected for up to 12 weeks of leave.

Parental or Caregiver Leave

If an individual needs to provide care for a parent or another family member, they may request to take parental or caregiver leave. This type of leave of absence may qualify for protection under the FMLA, depending on the relationship between the employee and the individual who requires the care.


An employee may wish to take a sabbatical to pursue another interest, such as performing research, traveling, or volunteering. This type of leave is more common among professionals in the education industry, although corporations have started to add it as a benefit for eligible employees in the recent past. The key purpose of a sabbatical is to take the mind off the stresses of work without resigning or giving up employment status with an organization. It could be used to develop skills that benefit an individual in their personal or professional life.

The length of a sabbatical depends on the situation. Some employees may request to take several weeks off, while others could request multiple months or even a year. If your organization allows employees to take sabbatical leave, it should be clearly outline in the leave of absence policy with details around how much notice is required, whether it’s paid or unpaid time off, and what qualifies as a sabbatical.

Maternity or Paternity Leave

Maternity and paternity leave is time taken off work to care for a newborn baby or child placed through adoption or foster care. Maternity leave applies to mothers, who may also need to recover from childbirth, while paternity leave is available to fathers. The length of time allowed depends on the situation, but both maternity and paternity leave are covered under the FMLA. As such, an eligible employee can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off work to care for a child.

Bereavement Leave

Bereavement leave refers to time off work to grieve the loss of a family member and/or attend funeral services. Most companies allow employees to take this leave type if an immediate family member passes away, such as a spouse, parent, sibling, or child, while others extend the policy to include extended family members.

Since there are no federal or state laws mandating the provision of bereavement leave, it can be paid or unpaid. When creating a leave of absence policy, it’s important to outline the following in the bereavement leave section:

  • Who is eligible to take this type of leave (full-time vs. part-time employees)
  • How long an employee can take off for bereavement
  • Whether the time off is paid or unpaid

Vacation Time

Offering vacation time is vital in encouraging a healthy work-life balance and allowing employees to take time off for positive, personal reasons. Taking vacation time should be clearly outlined in your leave of absence policy, including how far in advance to request the time off and how the time is accrued.

Unexcused Absences

In some cases, employees may have situations arise that they can’t plan for, such as unexpected illnesses or injuries that require time off. This may warrant an unexcused absence, which could create an occurrence or trigger a penalty through the company’s attendance policy. For most companies, an unexcused absence is one that doesn’t have advance approval from the employee’s supervisor.

Paid vs. Unpaid Leave

A leave of absence policy should also clearly outline whether each type of eligible leave is paid or unpaid. In some cases, a leave of absence may be both. For example, if an employee can use their accrued PTO until it runs out, they may receive payment for at least a portion of the time off.

Certain states have laws in place that require eligible employees to provide paid leave, as the right to take leave afforded under the FMLA doesn’t guarantee payment. California was the first to enact a paid family leave law, which grants employees up to 70 percent of their weekly earnings for up to eight weeks per 12-month period to care for a sick spouse, child, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, or grandchild. Other states with policies include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Creating a leave of absence policy is an essential aspect of managing employees and maintaining consistency. Make sure to outline these types of leave and how employees qualify to take time away from work when creating your company policy.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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