Requesting A Leave of Absence? Here's What You Should — And Shouldn't — Do

Photo Credit: © FotolEdhar / Adobe Stock

By Kristina Udice

READ MORE: FMLA, Maternity leave, Paid leave, Working remotely, Women in the workplace, Family, Work-life balance, Flexibility

If something monumental happens in your personal or professional life, it may require you to leave work for a lot longer than your benefits or PTO will allow. What are you to do?

This is where a leave of absence may come in handy. But what is a leave of absence?

In short, a leave of absence is a period of time an employee takes away from his or her job while still holding the title of employee from the period the leave starts to when the employee returns. It’s different from other forms of absences like vacations, holidays, sabbaticals and hiatuses. That’s because these other forms of “leave” are considered to be benefits or privileges of the employee, like working from home, instead of being extenuating circumstances.

And there are two types of leave: mandated, and volunteer.

Mandated leaves of absence include instances like jury duty leave, military leave, victim leave, and voter leave to name a few. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also fall under this leave of absence category.

A volunteered, personal leave of absence might be taken for many reasons be they personal or professional. Some instances of a personal leave of absence include maternity leave, family leave, sick leave, bereavement leave, religious leave and a medical leave of absence to name a few.

But just because these options are out there, doesn’t mean asking for them is easy.

Policies and regulations change from company to company, and state to state, and most full-time employees will be granted this leave on a case-by-case basis depending on the employer-employee relationship and the reason behind the request. If you find yourself in a position where you need to ask for an employee leave of absence, follow these steps for success.

1. Familiarize yourself with the leave of absence policy.

Outside of state-mandated paid leave programs and policies, most companies vary when it comes to what they offer employees as far as a leave of absence is concerned. But you have rights and it’s important that you are cognisant of them. Employers are required by law to give you time off for mandated leaves, like FMLA, ADA or active duty. But because of the varying laws and policies across the country, it can get confusing knowing if you are an eligible employee. It’s also important considering what may happen to your pay and other benefits. After how many days will you lose your pay? Will it be accepted, under the condition that it would be an unpaid leave of absence? These are questions you should have answered before beginning the conversation with your supervisor and human resource.

2. Provide ample time.

You don’t ever want to give anyone bad news without any notice, not that asking for a leave is bad news per se. It’s important to give your employer enough time to plan ahead, however. If you need to take time from work, then they will need to find someone to perform those tasks in the meantime. This goes for any leave, though there is of course more flexibility when it comes to sick leave or a medical leave of absence.

3. Talk with both your direct supervisor and HR.

You don’t want to blindside your supervisor, so you should make sure they’re in the loop throughout the entire process. But human resources might be able to help answer any questions or provide clarification on company-specific work policies on what would make you an eligible employee. You should try to have these questions answered, but once you’ve spoken to your direct supervisor, in order to keep the employer-employee relationship intact, it’s time to get HR involved.

4. Write it down.

Like any other legally binding document, it’s important to get your leave of absence form in writing. This should include the start and end date. But before you get to the contract part, it might be helpful to write down your reasoning and outline your request to make the conversation a simpler one.

5. Talk in person.

While this isn’t a resignation, it can sometimes feel like it both from an employee’s and an employer’s perspective. This is why it’s vital to speak in person. It’ll ease tensions and provide an environment of open conversation. Take the time to outline your reasoning and make sure you’re following your company’s policies regarding an employee leave of absence. You might also be able to come to a different conclusion, taking a partial leave or working from home if your request allows.

6. Set an end date.

This is vital both for you and your employee supervisor. By setting an end date, you’re letting your employer know that you indeed intend on returning. This might also make the request a more likely one to be accepted. It will also give you more confidence and stability in your decision knowing you have a job to return to.

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