Leave of Absence Types: When Does Each Apply?


An employee may have different circumstances and situations in their life that require them to take time away from work. Employers must accommodate those needs with leave of absence policies that outline the procedure for taking time off and what situations qualify for leave. Explore this guide to the different types of leaves of absence and when each may apply. We also cover some of the legal regulations around specific circumstances and maintaining compliance.

What Types of Employee Leave Are Available?

The various types of leaves of absence are generally split into two main categories: mandatory versus voluntary. Mandatory leave refers to a period away from work required by the employer, while voluntary leave is requested by the employee and based on their individual needs.

Additionally, some types of leave are paid while others are unpaid. In some states and cities, employers are required to offer paid leave in specific circumstances.

Types of Mandatory Leaves of Absence

Review the common leave of absence types that an employer may offer to qualifying employees.

Medical Leave

Medical leave is available to an employee who needs to seek treatment or recover from a serious medical condition, injury, or illness. The next type of leave on this list (maternity) may fall under this category, or it may qualify under caregiver or parental leave.

Although it doesn’t have to be paid, medical leave must be granted to eligible employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that requires eligible employers to allow qualified employees to take time off for different reasons.

When it applies: Medical leave applies when someone is facing a serious condition that requires time off for recovery and/or treatment. Examples include chronic health conditions, including those that may require surgery, and mental health conditions.

Maternity or Paternity Leave

Also called family leave, maternity and paternity leaves allow an individual to take time off work to care for a new member of the family. This type of leave generally applies to those who have biological children, as well as those who adopt or have children placed in their homes through foster care. Employers may have differing policies for maternity vs. paternity leave, while others may offer it to either parent under the family leave policy.

When it applies: Maternity or paternity leave eligibility is available to those who need to care for new children. This type of leave may also allow a woman who has given birth to recover and seek any necessary medical treatment.

Don’t forget: Caregivers can take leaves of absence under the FMLA. Although it does not dictate that leave must be paid, it does require an employer to hold the eligible employee’s job (or a similar position) until they return. An employee can take up to 12 weeks per 12-month period, and the time does not have to be taken all at once.

Caregiver Leave

Also called family and caregiver leave, this type permits an individual to take time off work to provide care for someone else. It differs from medical leave in that it doesn’t require the employee to have a condition that requires care. Instead, it is specifically available to those who are serving as caregivers for their immediate family members.

When it applies: Caregiver leave applies when an employee needs to be away from work to provide necessary support and care to a family member or handle other needs related to providing care. Examples include caring for someone with a serious medical condition, providing care for an elderly parent, caring for a newborn child, or assisting someone with special needs.

Don’t forget: The FMLA contains provisions for caregiver leave, which means that applicable employers must adhere to the laws and permit employees to take leave to care for their spouse, parent, or child. Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks off during a 12-month period. That number increases to 26 weeks if the employee is caring for a covered member of the U.S. Armed Forces, under the Military Caregiver Leave provision.

Military Leave

Members of the United States Armed Forces are eligible to take military leave for training, service, or deployments. There is no specified approved length of time for taking military leave, as each situation varies.

When it applies: Military leave applies whenever a member of the U.S. Military is required to participate in training, perform service, or be deployed.

Don’t forget: Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employers are required to protect the jobs of those who serve in the military. Upon return from military leave, an individual must receive the same position or one that is equivalent in level and pay.

ADA Leave

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against in the workplace, among other places. Taking leave under this law may be viewed as a reasonable accommodation offered by an employer to an employee who needs to manage their disability, such as to seek treatment or recover.

In addition to ADA leave, an individual who qualifies for protection under the ADA may also request other accommodations in the workplace that allow them to perform their job duties.

When it applies: The ADA applies to anyone with a disability in workplaces with at least 15 employees. Employers may be exempt from providing accommodations if doing so would cause undue hardship.

Jury Duty Leave

Part of the U.S. legal system involves creating juries of the accused’s peers, and being assigned to a jury can happen at any time. Therefore, employers are required to allow employees to perform their civic duties and participate in jury service without having to worry about losing their jobs.

Although there is no federal law that states jury duty leave must be paid, certain states have laws in effect. Most states also issue payment to those who perform jury duty service at a flat hourly rate. The amount received from the service does not have to be equal to what the individual would have earned for the same work performed at their job.

When it applies: Jury duty leave applies when an employee is selected for jury service. The leave may extend for as long as the service is necessary (the length of time depends on whether the individual is chosen to actually serve on the jury and, if so, how long the case lasts).

Worker’s Compensation Leave

Worker’s compensation leave, also called worker’s comp, is available to employees who get injured or ill while on the job. Its purpose is to provide medical and financial support to those who can’t work because of issues sustained while performing job duties.

When it applies: This type of leave of absence applies when an employee gets sick or injured as the result of performing their assigned duties and needs to seek treatment or take time to recover. In some cases, an employer may require the treating physician to approve the employee to return to their duties.

Religious Observance

A leave of absence for religious observance allows an employee to observe specific holidays, rituals, or practices that pertain to their religious beliefs and may not be accommodated by their work schedule. The purpose of this leave of absence type is to support religious beliefs without hardship or discrimination.

When it applies: Religion is a protected class in the U.S., which means that employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious practices unless doing so would create unnecessary hardship.

Types of Voluntary Leaves of Absence

As mentioned, an employee may voluntarily take a leave of absence from work. Below are some of the most common voluntary leave of absence types.

Bereavement Leave

Upon the death of an employee’s close family member, they may be eligible to take bereavement leave. Although there are no federal laws in place around this type of leave of absence, many employers offer it as a benefit to give individuals time to grieve, make funeral arrangements, and handle other needs.

Bereavement leave may be paid or unpaid. An organization may outline how many days for which an employee can be gone following the death of a member of their family.

When it applies: Bereavement leave applies when an employee experiences the death of a family member. Some policies allow employees to take time off for the death of anyone close to them, while others specify which family members apply.

Educational Leave

If someone wishes to take time off work to pursue an educational opportunity, they may be granted educational leave. However, this type of leave is not covered under any federal laws, which means its availability is based on the discretion of the employer.

When it applies: Educational leave applies when an individual takes time off work to complete an educational program or participate in a related opportunity.


A sabbatical may fall under the previous category, but it’s not always used for educational purposes. Instead, it’s more commonly used in the academic world, offering professors and others in education to take time away to pursue other interests, whether personal or professional. Some use sabbaticals to write books, perform research, or take extended vacations.

When it applies: A sabbatical applies when an individual wishes to take time away from their duties to focus on something else.

Personal Leave

A personal leave of absence allows an individual to take time off work for various reasons that aren’t necessarily protected by law. An employer may choose to allow an employee to take a personal leave, although they aren’t required to approve it.

Paid time off policies often permit employees to take a set number of hours off per year for personal reasons. PTO is often provided to employees as a benefit, which can be used to attend to personal needs, take vacations, and manage other responsibilities.

When it applies: Personal leave applies when someone wants to take time off work for a reason that doesn’t qualify under any other type of leave of absence. It isn’t required to be approved by an employer, and there are no compliance issues associated with declining a request. However, providing a generous policy for time off is linked to improved employee retention and a positive workplace morale.

Sick Leave

When someone is too sick to perform their duties, they may take sick leave. Some organizations offer paid sick leave, while others require employees to use their PTO or take unpaid time off when they are recovering from an illness.

When it applies: Sick leave applies when an individual is ill and needs time to recover and/or seek medical treatment. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), applicable employers were required to offer 80 hours of paid sick leave to all eligible employees who had to quarantine (pursuant to a federal, state, or local government order or advice of a healthcare provider) during the pandemic.

Community Service or Volunteer Leave

Some employers offer paid or unpaid time off to employees to give back to their communities and perform service. This type of leave of absence is designed to encourage someone to engage with the needs of their community without facing negative consequences at work. Employers may request verification of the volunteer hours performed or project completed.

When it applies: Community service or volunteer leave applies when an employee wishes to spend time during work hours giving back or performing service. The duration can vary, depending on the employer’s absence management policy and type of work being performed.

Administrative Leave

Administrative leave is a temporary type of absence from work in which an employer requires an employee to take a period of time away. It is generally not disciplinary in nature, but rather may be necessary to investigate allegations, address a situation, or conduct a formal inquiry. Company policy should dictate whether administrative leave is paid or unpaid, as well as outline any confidentiality needs associated with the situation. After the period ends, the employer determines whether to reinstate the employee to their normal duties or take any necessary disciplinary action.

When it applies: Administrative leave applies when organizational leaders must take time to address specific situations or perform investigations, requiring an employee to not be physically present during that time. Some legal regulations may apply, so it’s important to understand the laws around this leave of absence type in your area before placing an employee on administrative leave.

Leave of Absence FAQ

Review some of the most commonly asked questions around leaves of absence.

Can leaves of absence be extended?

Generally, a leave of absence can be extended, although company policy will dictate the rules around doing so. Leaves that qualify for legal protection, such as under the FMLA, can be extended up to the maximum amount of time offered (12 weeks) and may even qualify for additional time. Supervisors may need to consider factors like the performance of the employee and team impact, as well as any business needs, when determining whether to approve an extension of a leave of absence.

How long can a leave of absence last?

The allowed length of a leave of absence depends on the type taken and whether it’s covered under any laws or regulations. In some cases, employees may take several days, while others may need multiple months or longer.

Who qualifies for a leave of absence?

Qualifications for taking a leave of absence ultimately depend on the employer policies, applicable laws, and the type of leave being requested. For example, the FMLA includes a requirement that an employee must work for at least 12 months for an eligible employer (logging 1,250 hours during that period at minimum) before qualifying for legal protection during FMLA leave. By contrast, military leave is typically covered under USERRA and may not have a time or hours worked requirement associated with it.

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

The legal implications of firing someone who is extending a leave of absence depends on the type of leave they have taken and any applicable laws. For example, those on protected leaves (such as those that qualify under the FMLA or USERRA) could take legal action against your company if they were terminated.

Other factors that may impact the legality of termination include any contractual agreements in place, whether your state is an at-will employment state, and any disability accommodations in place. Your company policy may also apply, although it cannot violate any federal or state laws.

Why should a company consider granting voluntary leaves of absence?

Giving employees the opportunity to take time away from work when they need it can boost workplace morale and indicate that their employer supports their needs. Although it can be challenging to be down a team member, the individual is likely to return from leave feeling more ready to take on their responsibilities. By contrast, rejecting a request for a voluntary leave of absence could place additional strain on that person, which can impact engagement and productivity levels.

Does a business have to continue providing benefits to someone on a leave of absence?

If the employee is taking FMLA leave, they generally must continue to receive benefits on the same terms as when they were working. However, they may be required to pay their own premiums since they won’t receive their normal paychecks, eliminating the option for payroll deductions during that time. The company policy should dictate whether benefits are continued to be provided during voluntary or otherwise not legally protected leaves of absence.

How Absence Management Software Can Help

With various types of leaves of absence available, some of which are subject to federal, state, and local laws, it’s vital to keep track of employee time off. WorkforceHub makes it easy to manage accruals policies and leaves of absence, with time and labor data that flows throughout the system for accuracy and efficiency. Explore how this solution can help your organization remain compliant with leave of absence laws while supporting employees.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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