Leave of Absence 101

Check out our guide to fully understand different types of leave of absence, what situations they're used for, and how to ask for one.
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  • Most types of leaves of absence (LOA) will not pay while you're out.
  • Legally mandated leaves of absence offer job protection if approved.
  • However, job protection does not mean you'll get the exact same job back.
  • Understanding company policies on leave and federal law are critical.

Things can happen that require you to stop working for an extended period. And in these cases, it's essential that you understand your rights.

The different kinds of leaves of absence include legally mandated leave and voluntary leave.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid sick leave was available to 79% of civilian workers as of March 2021. In that same period, paid family leave was only available to 40% of the highest pay bracket of workers and 7% of the lowest bracket.

Some leaves of absence are paid, while others are not. Knowing how leaves of absence work — and whether you'll get paid during it — can help you decide how to move forward.

What Is a Leave of Absence (LOA)?

A leave of absence is an extended amount of time off from work or school. Depending on the type of leave of absence you take, you may not continue to receive a paycheck. You may also lose your employee benefits.

Leave can be paid or unpaid and mandated or voluntary.

Often, you'll use your remaining paid days off at the beginning of your leave. The rest of the days could wind up being unpaid (but still give you job protection).

The two main types of leaves of absence are:

  • Legally mandated leave
  • Voluntary leave

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What Is Legally Mandated Leave?

Legally mandated leave is an employer-approved leave of absence that comes with job protection. Here are the four types of legally mandated leave.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA includes common types of medical leave and comes with job protection; however, not all employees are eligible.

If you qualify, your employer must offer you a job on your return by 12 weeks. It doesn't need to be the same role but should be equivalent.

You can take this type of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or if you yourself have a serious health condition that prevents you from carrying out essential functions of your job.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

If you become ill, disabled, or injured on the job, you may qualify for leave under either the FMLA or ADA. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations for injured workers, but does not specify leave.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)

Employers must provide an unpaid leave of absence and allow you to retain your medical insurance if you are on active duty in the U.S. military.

Jury Duty

Employers must grant unpaid leave for those on jury duty in federal court and in most states.

What Is Voluntary Leave?

Some types of leave are not covered under FMLA, such as extended vacations and bereavement leave.

Voluntary leave is not required by law. It is not intended to be used just because you dislike your job or need time off between positions. Some employers may offer voluntary leave as a perk for employees.

Employers are not required to approve this type of leave, so be sure to verify the circumstances surrounding your request.

These leaves of absence are typically unpaid unless the employer explicitly includes them as a perk. Employers are not required to offer you job protection during a voluntary leave or grant you personal leave for special circumstances, though they may decide to do so.

Who Qualifies for a Leave of Absence?

If requesting FMLA, certain conditions need to be met, both by the employee and the employer.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees do not need to follow the FMLA. If a company has 50 employees for at least 20 weeks either in the current year or the year before, then it must abide by the FMLA.

For employees, you need to have worked at the company for at least one year and put in more than 1,250 hours to qualify for FMLA. Eligible employees can get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a service member.

Reasons to Take a Leave of Absence

Here are some of the main reasons you may decide or have to take a leave of absence:

  • New Child: If you are welcoming a child to your family through pregnancy or adoption, you are entitled to a leave of absence through the FMLA, so long as you meet the requirements. This rule also applies to those who foster a child.
  • Health Condition: If you need to care for yourself or a family member with a serious health condition, you can use the FMLA, provided you meet all eligibility requirements.
  • Service Member: If you need to care for a covered service member who is next of kin, a parent, a child, or a spouse with a serious illness or injury, you may take up to 26 weeks of leave through the FMLA.
  • Other Reasons: Additional reasons you may need to take a leave of absence include military deployments and jury duty.

How Does a Leave of Absence Work?

When requesting a leave of absence, try to give your employer as much notice as possible — ideally, at least 30 days. The company will likely need time to plan around your absence and figure out how to cover your workload while you're gone.

Ask politely for unpaid leave and give a clear explanation as to why and when you intend to return to work.

If your supervisor requests medical certification, you'll usually have 15 days to get one from your healthcare provider. If you don't provide this documentation to your employer, your request for leave may be denied.

When you're away, you may want to keep in contact with your manager so they know how your recovery is going (if you are taking a leave of absence for a health condition). They may ask you to complete a Fitness for Duty Certification to verify that you can return to work. Some employers may require you to use all of your paid time off before you can take unpaid leave.

How to Ask for a Leave of Absence

Before you ask for a leave of absence, make sure you're familiar with your company's policies and federal law.

It's best to set up a meeting with your supervisor as soon as you can and to prepare to collaborate on how you can make your time away easier for everyone involved.

Here is a sample email template you can use to send your supervisor:

Dear [Manager],

Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I'm requesting a leave of absence from [date] to [date] due to [reason].

I'm happy to do whatever you require to help with a smooth transition.


[Your Name]

Once you complete your face-to-face meeting with your boss, follow up with another email:

Dear [Manager],

I'm following up on our discussion about my requested leave of absence from [date] to [date] due to [reason].

As discussed, I'm glad to do whatever is needed to help with this transition. Please let me know what you need from me.

Thank you for your understanding.


[Your Name]

Bottom Line: Requesting a Leave of Absence

Asking for a leave of absence can be intimidating, but these leaves are often necessary when things happen outside your control. That's why federal laws are in place for leave and job protection.

Understanding the law, knowing your company's policies, and communicating with as much notice as possible will strengthen your case for your leave.

Be sure to follow all procedures closely so you have an easy time with the process.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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