Leave of Absence Types


When an employee wants to take time away from work to travel, spend time with loved ones, or otherwise recharge their batteries, they can typically do so through a benefit known as paid time off (PTO). But when a unique circumstance arises that necessitates time off for different reasons, a team member may need to take a leave of absence. Understanding the types of leave available for employees, as well as which ones include legal protection, is essential for any employer.

What are Leaves of Absence?

A leave of absence differs from paid time off or vacation leave as it provides a way to take time off work for a unique circumstance. Different situations can necessitate leaves of absence, such as the birth of a baby, a serious health condition, or the placement of a child for foster care or adoption.

An employee may also elect to take a voluntary leave of absence for personal reasons. For example, if they are undergoing a divorce and dealing with the associated challenges, the employee might have trouble focusing on their work and need some time off.

Legal Protections around Leaves of Absence

Federal laws require certain types of leaves of absence to be provided by eligible employers. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects eligible employees who have worked for their employers for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the time off. If an employee meets all FMLA criteria, their job must be held for them during the time off (or they can come back to a similar position).

FMLA laws apply to private employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius for 20 or more workweeks during a calendar year. Employers that qualify as public agencies, including local, state, and federal governments, and local educational agencies, are also required to comply with FMLA laws.

Employers aren’t legally required to grant voluntary leaves of absence, nor do they have to hold employees’ jobs during extended periods of time away from work. However, offering this option as a benefit may help to strengthen workforce morale and demonstrate support between the organization and its team members. A voluntary leave of absence is typically unpaid, while an FMLA-approved leave of absence may be paid.

4 Types of Leaves of Absence Employees May Take

Employees may ask to take leave for a variety of purposes, but the four main types of leaves of absence are outlined below.

Family Leave

A number of situations can necessitate family leave. An employee may be expecting a baby and need time off to give birth and recover, as well as bond with the baby. Paternal leave also falls under this category, granting fathers time off to bond with their newborn children and care for other members of their families. Becoming a parent or caregiver through adoption or the foster care system also qualifies for family leave, as it’s a protected circumstance under the regulations of the FMLA.

Under the FMLA, applicable employers must grant up to 12 weeks of leave per 12-month period to employees who meet all requirements. The time is not required to be paid. However, employees may be able to use different benefits to receive pay, such as:

  • Short-term disability
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Sick and/or vacation leave

Certain states and cities have additional laws in place around maternity and paternity leave. The following 13 states require paid family and medical leave:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

Washington, D.C. has a similar law in effect.

Medical Leave

Another leave of absence type is medical leave, which is granted to someone who experiences a health condition or injury that requires time off for recovery. In some situations, an employee with a medical issue may become unable to perform their duties. Providing medical leave gives such an individual the opportunity to take time away from work. They can use this time to undergo treatment, rest and take care of themselves. Medical leave can also include time taken off work to care for a sick, injured, or otherwise ailing family member.

Oftentimes, short-term disability insurance covers people during medical leaves of absence. Using this employer-sponsored benefit can provide peace of mind as the individual will receive monetary benefits while unable to work.

Certain medical conditions are covered under the FMLA, requiring eligible employers to provide this type of leave to employees who qualify. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t include leave of absence requirements, it does create obligations for employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualifying employees.

Personal or Voluntary Leave

While employers aren’t obligated to provide personal leave, doing so can come with a few key advantages. Offering such a benefit can serve as a valuable retention tool, especially when trying to attract top talent to fill open roles. Additionally, employees who are dealing with challenges may become more productive and engaged upon returning from a personal leave of absence.

One example of personal leave is a sabbatical, which is a period of time taken off work to pursue other interests. A professor might use this time to perform research or write a book. Some people may opt to travel or spend time with friends and family.

Voluntary leave is generally unpaid and does not include legal job protection. Therefore, taking the time off is typically done at the discretion of the employee.

Military Leave

Military leave is also protected by law, although it falls under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Under this legislation, employers are required to protect the jobs of armed services members. Those who qualify can take up to five years of leave to serve in their respective branches of the U.S. military. The time can be taken consecutively or broken down into shorter periods

When an employee takes military leave, the employer is legally required to employ that individual at the same pay and/or seniority level upon their return from service.

Other Types of Leave

An employer may offer other leave types to accommodate various needs of employees. One example is bereavement leave, granted to someone who has lost a family member. This time allows the individual to grieve, attend the funeral, and handle other needs related to death. Employers are generally required to offer time off for employees who are called for jury duty, as well as to vote.

With a firm understanding of the leave of absence types and which ones qualify for legal protection, employers can create policies that are compliant and supportive to their team members. If you have questions about leave of absence policies, check out our article on that topic.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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