What Is Employee Leave?

Employee leave allows your workers to take time off work and can be structured in a variety of ways. Leave can be partially paid, paid, or even unpaid. Taking leave is necessary to promote a healthy work/life balance and can improve physical and mental health.

Paid vs Unpaid Employee Leave

Except where mandated by law, each organization chooses what types of paid leave they offer. However, unpaid leave may be considered a benefit as well, as it enables employees to request blocks of time away from work while the organization commits to holding their jobs for them to return to. This can include sabbaticals and leaves of absence, a way for employees to request extended unpaid time off with the intent to return to their jobs at some point.

Types of Employee Leave

There’s a great variety of types of leave. Let’s look at some of the most common.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA is a federal law that applies to employers who have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. Eligible employees include those who worked at a company for 12 months at least 1,250 hours before the leave is taken.

FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. It can be used to cope with a serious health condition, surgery, the birth of a child, adoption, or a newly placed foster child. It can be used if a family member is on covered active duty with the military or can be used (up to 26 weeks) while on active duty. Some companies also provide paid maternity leave, which could last anywhere between several weeks to several months.

Sick Leave

Sick leave is paid time used to recover from an illness or to care for family members who are ill. You may require your employees to provide documentation from a healthcare provider noting whether they are well enough to return to work. Depending on where your business operates, paid sick leave and specific accrual amounts may be required by state and local regulations. Federal contractors are typically required to provide paid sick leave depending on the contract.

Paid Time Off (PTO)

Paid time off is a simple way for employees to request paid leave if they become sick, go on vacation, take a personal day, or any other time an employee isn’t working. Some companies choose to offer a single PTO accrual rather than accrue time separately for vacation, sick leave, etc.

Bereavement

Bereavement leave is paid time off for employees to grieve the death of  immediate family members. It could also include the death of a retired employee or a coworker. Bereavement leave usually lasts for three or four consecutive days. It’s a way to show your employees you care, allow them to attend funeral services, and provide time away from work to cope with the emotional and physical pain of loss.

Holidays

Although paying employees what they would have made working on a holiday is not required by law, it is an expected benefit. In your policy, outline which holidays your organization chooses to observe. You can also include how your company will react if an observed holiday falls on a weekend. Feel free to review this template should you decide to create your own paid holiday policy.

Short-Term Disability and Long-Term Disability

Disability pay (or insurance) is meant to help employees cope financially by paying a percentage of wages if they are unable to work due to a short-term injury, pregnancy or illness. Short-term disability pay generally covers situations that last between six months to a year; long-term disability is a separate benefit an employee could be offered if they were to experience a long-term injury or illness which prevents them from working.

When Are Employers Required to Pay for Leave?

The US Labor of Department’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide sick leave, holiday pay, or paid vacations. If an employer does offer paid leave to its employees, then they must honor this agreement.

Some states require employers to provide paid sick leave for employees based on the number of hours that they work. This list includes links to specific guidelines regarding paid sick leave.

How to Create an Employee Leave Policy

The following steps will help you create a clear employee leave policy. The steps include outlining the different types of leave your policy should cover, how your employees will request leave, and the process your managers should follow in order to approve requests. Feel free to refer to this handy template while creating your own policy.

Step 1: Outline the Types of Leave

Your company policy should outline in detail what you expect from your employees when it comes to the various types of leave your company has decided to offer, including FMLA, jury duty, PTO, military and sick leave. Providing clear instructions regarding the various laws that your company may be required to adhere to will also allow your management to lead effectively.

Step 2: How to Request Leave

How will your employees request various types of leave? Your policy should include that foreseeable leave should be requested a certain amount of time before the leave is taken, such as vacation. If the leave is unforeseeable, such as sick leave, then the employee should submit the leave request as soon as they are able. For foreseeable leave, the employee should review their balances to ensure that they have accrued leave to use.

Step 3: Request Approval Process

Whether your process is on paper or completed through a company HRIS system, the request-approval process should be clear and consistent. After a supervisor receives a request for a leave, they should review it in order to make sure that the employee has accrued the necessary amount of leave that they are requesting, if applicable. The supervisor can then either approve or deny the request. If the request is denied, the supervisor should inform the employee either by submitting a comment to the employee through the workflow, in writing, or in person.