A leave of absence is an extended period of time during which an employee is temporarily absent from their job.
The type of absence is typically granted for a specific reason, such as illness, military leave, maternity or paternity leave, or to pursue a personal or professional development opportunity. A leave of absence may be paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstances and company policies, as well as on the country where the employee resides, as in some locations, paid leave of absence is a statutory employee benefit.
Take note that a leave of absence differs from normal time off, which is allocated for sick leave, bereavement leave, etc.
Types of leave of absence
There are several different types of leave of absence, which can be classified as either mandatory or voluntary.
Mandatory leave of absence
A mandatory leave of absence is required under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), administered by the Department of Labor and allows employees to take a specific number of weeks of during a 12-month period, based on the reason for the absence.
Mandatory leave may also be stipulated by another federal law or state law, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Consider the following examples.
- Parental leave (maternity or paternity leave) for a new child
- Placement of a child in foster care
- Military service leave (during which the employee is protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act)
- Medical leave
- Jury duty or to serve as a witness in a legal proceeding
- Deal with the death or serious illness of a family member
Voluntary leave of absence
A voluntary leave of absence, on the other hand, is requested by the employee and approved by the employer. Consider the following examples.
- Personal leave
- Professional development or other personal reasons
- Pursue an educational opportunity
- Travel or extended vacation time
- Care for a family member who is not seriously ill or injured
- Relocation to a new city or country
Employer’s responsibilities when an employee is on a leave of absence
When an employee is on a paid or unpaid leave of absence, the employer has certain responsibilities to ensure that the employee's rights are protected and that their position is maintained through job protection efforts.
For example, the employer must hold the employee's job for them until they return from leave (unless it is not feasible). The employer must also continue to provide the employee with any benefits that they were receiving before going on leave, such as health insurance and retirement plan contributions.
The employer must maintain the confidentiality of any medical information the employee provides in connection with their leave of absence.
Finally, the employer must not discriminate against the employee because they have taken a leave of absence and must allow them to return to work.
If subject to such laws, the employer must provide available reasonable accommodations for an employee who returns to work but still has a short-term or long-term disability.
Employee’s responsibilities during a leave of absence
While on a leave of absence, eligible employees have certain responsibilities to ensure that their absence does not cause undue disruption to their workplace.
For example, employees should communicate with their employer about their anticipated return date and any changes to their leave plans. Employees should also keep their contact information up to date and make themselves available to their employers if necessary.
The employee should not engage in any activities that would conflict with their job or the interests of their employer while on leave. Employees should also make every effort to return to work at the end of their leave unless they have made other arrangements with their employer.
Leave of absence frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about leaves of absence.
What is the difference between time off and a leave of absence?
Paid time off (PTO) off refers to paid days off work for sick days, vacation days, etc. A leave of absence, on the other hand, is an extended amount of time off that can be paid or unpaid leave.
Can an employee take a leave of absence due to stress?
An employee may be able to take a leave of absence due to stress. Depending on the circumstances, this type of leave may be covered under the FMLA leave description.
Whether an employee's stress qualifies as a serious health condition under the Family Medical Leave Act would depend on the specific facts and circumstances. The employee should discuss their situation with their employer and provide medical documentation to confirm eligibility and support their request for leave.
How does an employee request a leave of absence?
Employees should submit a leave of absence request and discuss their plans with their manager or human resources representative and provide any necessary documentation, such as a doctor's note or military orders. The employer will then review the request and make a decision about whether to grant the leave. It’s in the company’s best interest to incorporate a leave of absence policy in the employee handbook.