Leave of Absence Policy: What It Is and How to Write One
Managing leaves of absence is nearly impossible without an effective policy in place. Explore our guide to what a leave of absence policy should include and how to write or modify one to accommodate the needs of your workforce.
What is a Leave of Absence?
A leave of absence is a temporary period in which an employee takes time away from the workplace and their responsibilities. Individuals may need to take leaves of absence for various reasons, including to care for their medical needs or the needs of their loved ones.
The length of time taken depends on the individual situation. Some leaves of absence are taken unpaid, while others qualify for pay. Currently, no federal law exists that requires employers to pay an employee during a period of leave, but many states, cities and municipalities have their own legislation in place.
Leave of absence vs. PTO
Paid time off, or PTO, is another time-off arrangement offered as a benefit to an eligible employee. It allows an individual to take time off work without losing pay. One of the key differences is that most employers provide accrued PTO, or a specific amount that an employee may earn through their tenure with the company and/or number of hours worked.
PTO is generally more flexible than a leave of absence, allowing an employee to take time off for any reason. It’s also typically used on a short-term basis, allowing an employee to take shorter periods off work, while a leave of absence often involves being away for multiple weeks.
Types of leaves of absence
The main types of leaves of absence include:
- Medical leave: When someone needs to take time off for health reasons, the leave of absence typically falls under this category. They may need to undergo treatment for an illness or injury, or manage a mental health condition.
- Caregiver or family leave: Caregiver and family leave are available to those who need to provide care to a close family member, such as a child, spouse or parent. In some cases, this type of leave will qualify for protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Military leave: Members of the military may need to take a leave of absence when called for training or active duty. This type of leave generally qualifies for protection, allowing military members to take time away when needed.
- Sabbatical leave: Common in academia and other related professions, sabbatical leave provides an opportunity to take time off to work on other projects, such as research or professional development. Some people also use sabbaticals to address personal projects.
- Personal leave: Taking personal leave might occur if someone wants to travel, work on their personal issues, or take time to improve themselves in some way. Not all companies allow employees to take personal leave that is separate from any allotted PTO.
Some educational institutions may also offer educational leave, during which a student enrolled in a program may take time away. Reasons for educational leave could include family-related or personal issues, internships and travel opportunities.
Nearly all employers require leaves of absence to be requested in advance and approved by the employee’s supervisor. An individual does not have to perform their standard duties while taking leave, and it’s expected that their position will be held until their return. However, the specific conditions and terms of a leave depend on the organization and its policy, as well as any laws that may apply to the leave.
What is a Leave of Absence Policy?
A leave of absence policy outlines the procedures and regulations around taking prolonged periods off work. It may be its own standalone policy, but it’s more often incorporated into the overall absence management policy.
Leaves of absence are split into two key categories: voluntary and mandatory. Employers may offer voluntary leaves to those who wish to take time away, while mandatory leaves are protected by law. Examples of mandatory leaves of absence include those protected under the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and military laws. Additionally, serving jury duty may also qualify as mandatory leave that is protected by law.
A leave of absence policy should clearly state what type of leave is available to employees, who qualifies, and the process for requesting a longer period of time off work.
The Benefits of a Leave of Absence Policy
Incorporating a leave of absence policy into your organization’s overall policies and procedures comes with many advantages, including those outlined below.
Better employee satisfaction
A well-implemented and transparent policy can boost employee satisfaction in a few ways. These include improved work-life balance, where employees can address their needs without worrying about losing their jobs or facing other consequences.
A clear leave of absence policy also serves to ensure fair and consistent treatment across the workforce. Such fairness plays a role in organizational trust and overall satisfaction. Some leaves of absence also encourage employees to pursue development or educational opportunities, which can help them feel more satisfied in their ability to progress.
Less burnout and churn
Employees with access to leave of absence options tend to also feel supported, which can boost retention and overall satisfaction. As a result, they are also less likely to feel burned out, as they have the opportunity to take time away when needed.
Compliance with legal regulations
Many leaves of absence are protected under various federal regulations. Outlining when an individual can take time away and what protection they qualify for helps a business remain compliant with legal requirements.
Having access to the benefit of taking a leave of absence is important to many jobseekers, so it’s something your company can’t afford to ignore. When recruiting to fill open positions, your hiring managers may face questions about the benefits offered, including whether a potential new hire could take time off when necessary.
Leave of Absence Laws to Consider for Your Policy
As mentioned, leaves of absence may fall under different laws and federal regulations. Learn more about some of the most common ones.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal labor law that allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific reasons. It has been in effect since 1993 and is administered by the Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. The main purpose of the FMLA is to balance workplace demands with the importance of caring for significant medical or family-related issues.
To qualify for FMLA leave, employees must work for eligible employers for at least 12 months and accumulate at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12-month period. They can only take FMLA leave for qualifying reasons, including the birth and care of a newborn child, the care of a family member with a serious health condition, the placement of a foster or adopted child, or a serious health condition that requires care and/or treatment.
An employer must maintain the health insurance coverage of the employee out on FMLA leave, as well as hold their job or a similar position with equivalent pay and benefits. The maximum length of time available is 12 weeks per 12-month period, although an employee doesn’t have to take the full amount of time, nor do they have to take it all at once. Intermittent FMLA leave is also available to eligible employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with various disabilities. After being signed into law in 1990, the act has continued to be amended to improve its protections. Its main purpose is to provide individuals with disabilities access to employment opportunities and other accommodations.
Employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities under the rules of the ADA. These accommodations may not create undue hardship for the employer. A leave of absence may qualify as an accommodation for an individual who may need to take an extended period away from work to address needs related to their disability.
Workers’ compensation provides medical and financial benefits to employees who get sick or injured as the result of their professional duties on the job. Eligible employers typically provide compensation for medical expenses, disability benefits, wage replacement, and/or vocational rehabilitation to employees who sustained injuries or illness while at work.
Regulations around workers’ comp vary between states, but most require employers to carry insurance to protect themselves and their employees. An employee may need to take a leave of absence after experiencing a medical issue related to their job duties, which could fall under this legislation.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is also administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL, although it regulates employment standards. These include minimum wage, recordkeeping requirements, overtime pay, and child labor. Although this piece of legislation doesn’t mandate leaves of absence, it does require detailed and accurate records of hours worked by non-exempt employees. These records may come into play when an employee takes FMLA leave, as the law requires the accumulation of a certain number of hours to qualify.
How to Write a Leave of Absence Policy
Use our guide to write a leave of absence policy that incorporates all the necessary details.
Decide what leave types to provide
The first step in creating your company’s leave of absence policy is deciding what types of leave will be available to employees. Of course, those protected under federal and state legislation are required to be offered, assuming your organization meets the eligibility criteria. But you also have to determine whether personal leaves, such as sabbaticals, will be available to employees.
Outline the details of what will be provided
Next, you need to outline the details of what will be available to each eligible employee. Discuss how much time an employee can take off for a leave of absence and whether it will be paid or unpaid. In some cases, even unpaid leave can qualify for short-term disability coverage, so outline what related benefits may be available to employees during their leaves.
Decide who qualifies for each leave type
Make sure to define who is eligible for a leave of absence. For example, if only full-time workers can take leave, outline how many working hours per week are necessary to be classified as a full-time employee.
You may also choose to offer certain types of leave to employees who have worked for the company for a longer period of time. For example, the option to take a sabbatical could be earned after 10 years of full-time employment.
Outline how an employee can request leave
Your policy should also clearly state how to request a leave of absence. Include details around who needs to be notified, what paperwork to complete when requesting leave, and how much advanced notice is required.
Update employee handbook
Don’t forget to update your employee handbook to include the updated leave of absence policy. This ensures that employees always have access to the information and process and that new hires get the details upon starting with the company.
Easily Manage Employee Leave with Absence Management Software
With the right absence management solution, your company can easily track time and have access to detailed records whenever necessary. This data is vital to managing leaves of absence, including determining who is eligible and how much time off they have taken over the previous 12-month period.
Absence management software is a must when it comes to managing employee leaves of absence. Learn more about WorkforceHub, a powerful tool that’s designed with today’s small business needs in mind. You can easily track accruals, leave of absence needs and much more, all from a single solution. Learn more and try it for free today!
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