What to Know About Paid Leave of Absence

As an employer, you may wonder why an employee would receive a paid leave of absence and how it will affect your business. It is your responsibility to understand the laws about leaves of absence. Continue reading to learn more about types of leave, laws restricting leave of absence, and what to do when an employee requests leave of absence from work.

What is a leave of absence?

A leave of absence is when a worker takes an extended period of time away from work while still maintaining their employee status. When an employee takes a leave of absence from work, it can be either paid or unpaid. A personal leave of absence will likely be unpaid. In some cases, employers can determine if a leave of absence is paid or unpaid.

Unpaid or paid leave of absence examples

Life events, like the death of a family member, are beyond your employees’ control. When events like this occur, employees may request to take a leave of absence.

Bereavement, parental leave, and military leave are common examples that qualify for paid leave of absence. Employers determine a paid or unpaid leave policy and should list it in the employee handbook and contract (if applicable).


There is no law requiring paid bereavement leave for employees. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family-related matters, such as serious illnesses or health conditions.

Many employers grant paid bereavement for a certain number of days. Be sure to list your policy in your employee handbook.

Parental leave

Parents of newborn and adopted children may take FMLA parental leave (maternity and paternity). The FMLA allows new parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. There is no federal law that requires employers to offer paid parental leave.

Paid parental leave has become more common for businesses. Some states, including New York, California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, have laws that require employers to offer paid parental leave.

Military leave

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is an employment law establishing rights and responsibilities for uniformed service members. Some employers choose to offer paid military leave, even though it’s not required.

An employer can voluntarily pay the difference between the military and civilian salary. But, USERRA doesn’t require it. An employee can take a cumulative military leave of absence for up to five years.

Mandatory vs. voluntary

A leave of absence can be mandatory or voluntary. Even though a leave may be mandatory, it does not always mean it is paid. Check out what leave is considered voluntary or legally mandated below.


Federal and state laws control mandatory leaves of absence. A few types of leave that businesses are legally required to provide to employees include FMLA, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), jury duty, and military leave.

FMLA leave

An employee may take FMLA leave for childbirth or adoption, serious health conditions, or caring for a family member. Employees can take FMLA leave for themselves or to take care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition.

FMLA leave requires an employer to hold an employee’s job until their FMLA leave ends. FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees. An employee qualifies for FMLA leave by working 1,250 hours one year prior to the leave. FMLA leave grants employees up to 12 weeks off in a 12 month period.

ADA leave

The ADA prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. It covers employees with a physical or mental disability limiting them in life activities. The ADA does not mandate a particular amount of time for leave. Employees can use ADA leave for medical absences related to their disabilities.

Employees may have a short-term disability (e.g., injury or non-terminal sickness) or long-term disability (e.g., serious illness or diseases). Depending on the type of disability, employees may need additional time off.

Employees receive pay if employers offer short-term disability insurance. Short-term disability generally only covers disabilities that aren’t work-related. Short-term disability plans usually pay between nine and 52 weeks.

Jury duty

Employers must allow employees to serve on jury duty. The Jury Systems Improvement Act requires all employers to provide unpaid leave to employees serving as federal court jurors.

On the federal level, there is no requirement to pay employees while serving on jury duty. However, laws about jury duty pay can vary depending on state and locality. Check with your state and local laws about paid jury duty leave.


You are not required to offer paid or unpaid voluntary leave. In most cases, the employee doesn’t receive pay for voluntary leave. Outline voluntary leaves in your company policy. Employers grant voluntary leaves of absence based on discretion and according to guidelines set in the employee handbook. Businesses typically offer voluntary leaves for personal leaves.

When it comes to leave, what exactly are your employer requirements?

There isn’t a federal law that requires employers to provide sick, vacation, and holiday pay. Download our free FLSA cheat sheet for more info.

Creating a leave of absence form

Create your leave of absence form by making a template specific to your business. Make sure it fits your business’s leave of absence policies and is legally compliant. Include the start and end dates that the employee will be away from work, the reason they are taking a leave, and any applicable pay.

The employee must fill out the form and return it to you. After reviewing the form, you must either approve or deny your employee’s request.

Your leave of absence policy

Build your business’s leave of absence policy by considering what types of leave will be paid or unpaid. Follow state and federal leave laws when creating your policy.

As an employer, stay compliant with ever-changing laws by updating your employee handbook on a regular basis. You can ensure compliance by updating your leave of absence policy every two years.

After you include your leave of absence policy in your employee handbook, you must distribute it to employees. Patriot’s HR software lets you upload and store your personalized employee handbook so employees can easily access it. And, the HR software integrates with Patriot’s online payroll. Try both for free today!

This article has been updated from its original publication date of November 28, 2018.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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