3 Types of Leave of Absence
By Amanda Neely
The term “leave” is used to describe all types of time off. But legally, leave of absence has a specific definition. There are several types of leave of absence, including mandatory leave (required by law) and voluntary leave (offered at the employer’s discretion). Leaves of absence are different from paid time off, like holidays or vacation days.
Mandatory leaves of absence are protected by federal and state laws, and they are triggered by specific events in an employee’s life. These laws prohibit employers from firing or demoting employees during officially excused leaves of absence. With voluntary leaves, on the other hand, employers can (and should) set their own parameters for use.
The type of leave employees can use depends on their reason for taking leave. Here are the three types of leaves of absence employees can take for themselves and their families.
Family and Caretaking Leave
Events will arise in your employees’ lives that require their undivided attention, and part of a good employee experience is giving them the space to focus on their families. This could be expanding their families by giving birth, adopting or fostering, or it could be a pause to care for a sick family member. In any of those scenarios, employees deserve time to do what’s right for their families.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers of a certain size are required to offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave per 12-month period to employees who have worked at the company for a specified period of time. Employers aren’t mandated to pay employees who take FMLA leave, but an employer can require or an employee can choose to use paid time off from accrued vacation time or sick leave at the same time.
At the federal level, maternity leave is covered under the FMLA. Certain states also have their own guidelines for maternity and paternity leave. Employers also can add their own parental leave programs to help employees transition into parenthood.
Medical and Disability Leave
Health and well-being can be unpredictable. When an employee falls ill or becomes injured, they need time away from work to get better. In addition to growing the family and caring for loved ones, FMLA also covers leaves of absence due to health conditions that prevent the employee from performing their job.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t include leave but can obligate employers to offer leave as a reasonable accommodation to an employee covered by the legislation.
Short-term disability leave is a voluntary benefit that employers may extend to employees with temporary health conditions not covered by the ADA. Many companies offer short-term disability insurance as a voluntary benefit to employees so they have time to recover without worrying about work.
Personal Leave and Sabbaticals
There are several types of personal leave that employers can offer, some of which they are obligated to offer to employees and some of which they can offer at their own discretion. Here are some common types of personal leave.
Employers are required to allow employees to take a leave of absence to serve in the military. This type of leave is governed by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which protects the jobs of employees who enter into uniformed service.
Under USERRA, employees qualify for up to five cumulative years of leave. The five years can be taken consecutively or broken down into different periods.
Upon returning from uniformed service, eligible employees can apply for reemployment. If they were gone for a longer period of time and would have, with reasonable certainty, achieved raises or promotions, then employers are obligated to bring them back at that pay and/or seniority level.
While USERRA requires employers to offer service leave, other types of personal leave are voluntary. Offering these leave options can provide a better experience for employees dealing with life changes or grief.
Employers can offer employees a specified amount of bereavement leave for when a loved one passes away. With a bereavement leave policy in place, employees can take time to handle their deceased loved one’s affairs and take personal time to grieve their loss.
Sabbaticals can help employees disconnect from work to travel, learn, or simply reflect on their lives. Offering sabbatical leave demonstrates your commitment to employee well-being, but employers need to set clear parameters for this benefit. Identify the length of time employees may take (typically four to six weeks), whether any portion of that time will be paid and what reasons (if any) employees must give to qualify for sabbatical leave.
When you provide opportunities for employees to take care of themselves and their families, their loyalty and gratitude toward the company will grow. Offering several types of leave of absence can be a strategic move to attract and retain employees.
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