Definition of Leave of Absence

mother and child family

A leave of absence refers to the time an employee takes away from the workplace. Some leaves of absence are governed by federal and state laws and may be paid or unpaid leaves.

What is a leave of absence?

Whether paid or unpaid, a leave refers to any time off an employee takes from work. Although many think of a long-term absence from work when they refer to a leave of absence, in the strictest sense of the definition, it may even encompass a few hours away from the worksite.

Some leaves are required by federal or state law; others are given at the employer’s discretion.

Examples of employee leave include:

  • Adoptive parental leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Disability leave
  • Family leave
  • Funeral leave
  • Jury duty leave
  • Medical leave
  • Military leave
  • Organ donor leave
  • Personal time (e.g., a sabbatical)
  • School activity leave
  • Sick time
  • Vacation time
  • Victims leave
  • Voting leave

Regardless of the types of leave you offer, it is critical to ensure they are clearly defined in your employee handbook. Specifically, address when an employee is eligible for leave, how a request for a leave of absence is approved, whether that type of leave is paid or unpaid, and the minimum and maximum amount of time allowed by that type of leave.

Why is understanding leave of absence important to my business?

When thinking about leaves of absence, people typically assume that they are extended times away from the office that are greater than an individual’s accrued vacation time would cover. Some of these types of leave would encompass situations such as:

  • Educational leave
  • Medical leave
  • Parental leave
  • Personal leave for a sabbatical or moving to a new location

While these leaves of absence may be paid or unpaid, or even voluntary or involuntary, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires employers to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave of absence for reasons including:

  • Providing care for an infant following the birth of a child
  • Providing child care after adopting or beginning foster care of a child
  • Receiving medical treatment
  • Providing care for a family member
  • Seeking external personal or social services support

What is the history of leaves of absence?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993 after spending more than 9 years in development and debate. This law provides job protection for employees who need to take a leave of absence from their company for a protected reason.

The Act is relevant to any business that employs 50 or more employees who work at least 20 or more hours per work week. This time may span the previous year or the current year.

A high-level overview of the ADA

In addition to the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law in 1998 but did not go into effect until a later date to allow employers time to meet compliance standards. It specifically covers leave for any absences an employee needs that may be related to their disability. This includes physical and mental disabilities that may limit certain life activities.

The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

As a result of the implementation of the ADA and the FMLA, some leaves of absence are protected at the federal, state, or local level and must be approved. A quick sample of these leaves includes:

  • Care for an ill family member
  • Care for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury
  • Jury duty
  • Military exigencies
  • Parental leave in case of childbirth, adoption, or foster care
  • Voting

Other terms similar to leave of absence that can assist you

  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): A regulation under the DoL’s jurisdiction prohibiting employers from discriminating against and requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in any activity, including communications, employment, government activities, public accommodation, and transportation.
  • FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act): Regulation overseen by the DoL requiring employers to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees following the birth, adoption, or foster placement of an employee’s child or a serious family illness. The regulation also defines the minimum number of hours an employee must actively work for an employer over a 12-month period before being eligible for the Act’s protections.
  • Absenteeism: When an employee habitually fails to show up for work as scheduled without good reason.
  • Employee handbook: A written document that provides employees with guidance and information on the employer’s mission, values, policies, procedures, and code of conduct.
  • Does my company need to comply with the FMLA?

Summary of the definition of leave of absence

Traditionally thought of as an extended amount of time an employee is away from the office, a literal interpretation of leave of absence includes any period of time an employee is away from work for personal reasons.

Similar glossary terms you should know

  • Unpaid leave: Covers a period of time that an employer grants an employee away from work without providing compensation.
  • Paid leave: A time spent away from work during which the employee receives regular compensation.

People also ask

From hiring to retiring, make managing your team a breeze with Zenefits