Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
A leave of absence is a period of time which employees can spend away from their normally scheduled work without jeopardizing their job standing. Frequently shortened to the single word “leave,”, leaves of absence fall into several categories.
Under certain circumstances, employers are required to provide employees with a leave of absence. In the United States, there are several situations that require leave by law. These include the following:
Medical conditions covered in the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)
Leave necessary to meet reasonable accommodations for employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act
Legal summons for jury duty
State-mandated leave scenarios
Building on mandatory leave, employers can create policies for voluntary leave. These policies can also determine whether or not employees will receive compensation for their leave. Voluntary leave includes the following categories:
Additional maternity leave (after mandatory FMLA leave)
Each leave of absence has another classification:
Paid leave, where the employer provides compensation as if the employee was working during that period
Unpaid leave, where employees are not required to come to work, but also earn no compensation for that period from the employer.
Rules for paid and unpaid leave are almost solely at the discretion of the employer. While many forms of leave mandate that an employer keep an employee’s position available until the end of the specified period, there are very few regulations around whether or not employers must pay employees their normal compensation during a leave of absence.
Each U.S. state has laws that shape paid leave policies, including whether earned leave counts as wage, whether employers can implement a use-it-or-lose-it policy, and whether employers are required to convert unused leave hours into monetary compensation in the event an employee separates from the employer.
In the event of an investigation into an employee’s alleged wrongdoing, it may be too difficult or complicated to have the employee continue working as normal. As a result, an employer may ask the employee(s) to take an involuntary leave of absence so the investigation can reach a clear conclusion.