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The A – Z of Understanding Types of Employee Leave

Every once in a while, an employee may need a day off from work, whether it be vacation, sick, a death in the family. Beyond vacation time, there are a number of times when employees are legally authorized to take time off from work—do you know what they all are? There are other types of leave you can offer that can cover any type of situation.

Here, we have compiled the various leave policies and what it means for your business.

Legally Mandated Leave

The below are the federally-mandated ways that employees can take off work. It should be noted that most of these leave opportunities are generally unpaid, although some states, municipalities, and even companies may opt to provide payment to their employees.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act: This law requires employers to provide workers who have a documented physical or mental disability with a workplace accommodation or modification that can include time off work.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act: Under this very important piece of legislation, employees are eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually (meaning it resets each year) without fear of losing their jobs and/or job title (so you can’t demote someone if they take FMLA). Under this law, not only do you have to grant the time off, but workers are also eligible to receive job and benefit protections during this time. As for who’s eligible, FMLA is offered only to employees of companies with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius AND only if the employee has worked for their employer for at least 12 months, or for at least 1250 hours over the past 12 months. This type of leave is designed to cover the following scenarios:
    • The birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
    • The placement with the employee of an adopted child or foster child
    • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) with a serious medical condition
    • When the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition.
    • For qualifying events associated with military service.
  • Jury Duty: This one seems kind of silly, but you need to know that if an employee of yours is picked for a federal jury – which can take weeks or even months to complete – you are forbidden from taking action against that worker. However, it should be noted that whether you have to pay them for this missed time is determined on a state/municipality level.
  • Military Leave: The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) states that employers provide leaves of absence for workers serving in the military. Further, it requires that you re-employ those workers upon their return.
  • Religious observance and holidays: An employer with 15 or more workers must allow flexible work schedules or make-up time to employees requesting time off to observe a religious holiday. Once again, pay is at the discretion of the employer, but a survey from WorldatWork suggests that employers offer an average of nine paid holidays per year.

State-Mandated Paid Leave Opportunities

While these paid leave initiatives are mostly focused in just a handful of states (and almost always in California!), many state legislatures are considering similar measures that could extend paid leave opportunities to workers, so it’s worth keeping an eye on these paid-leave policies.

  • Paid family leave: Currently, only four states (California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) provide paid family or medical leave (which is different from FMLA, which is unpaid)
  • Paid sick leave: Only a handful of states also offer paid leave for employees who become sick, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont.
  • Paid school leave: There’s no better way to show the parents in your company that you appreciate their struggle than by offering them a certain number of hours of paid leave to attend school events and activities for their children. A number of states offer this program, with billable time ranging from a skimpy 4 hours in North Carolina to a whopping 40 hours in California!

For more information on state-by-state leave laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a fantastic table that you can access here.

Additional Leave Opportunities

The following types of leave are not federally regulated and are awarded at the discretion of employers and can be either paid or unpaid. In order to ensure that everyone has the same expectations about these leave opportunities, be sure to very clearly outline in your employee handbook how your company will handle these various types of leave requests.

  • Administrative leave: This type of leave is generally reserved for folks who work in “non-business institutions,” such as hospitals, schools or in law enforcement positions. Administrative leave is defined as a temporary break from a job, with pay and benefits, but is often associated (often falsely) with leave taken while an investigation is underway.
  • Bereavement leave: Another super discretionary leave allowance is that of bereavement leave. Many companies offer time off for a tragic event but may stipulate who has to depart this earth in order for you to get time off to grieve.
  • Organ/bone marrow donation leave: According to the fine folks over at Be The Match, which seeks to match bone marrow donors with those in need, a number of states have enacted policies that allow private and/or state employees a certain amount of time off to serve as bone marrow donors. UNOS – the solid organ transplant group – hasn’t developed similar policies, but does have a myriad of educational tools that recommend how employers should handle workers who plan to donate.
  • Parental/family leave: When a worker gets pregnant, generally they are advised to cover the period that they expect to be out of the office with a mishmash of FMLA and short-term disability, as well as exhaust their sick days and vacation days. However, a handful of companies offer maternity – and even paternity – benefits to their employees, under which those who are staying home with a newborn are authorized to take a pre-determined number of weeks (or even months) off to care for the baby. Some companies even offer so-called Pawternity benefits, whereby folks can take off for the arrival of a new four-legged friend!
  • Sabbatical: According to the WorldatWork survey, a whopping 15% of organizations offer sabbatical leave, which is defined as “any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, or to acquire new skills or training.” In general, we associate Sabbatical with academia, but this older article from Fortune suggests that it’s becoming a hot new perk, with companies such as Genentech, The Container Store, and Kimpton Hotels offering the perk.
  • Sick days: Here’s where the system gets a bit tricky – many companies roll their vacation and sick days into one combined “paid time off” bank, leaving it up to employees to make the decision whether they want to roll the dice on that extra vacation in hopes that the flu season is mild! In general, however, the above-referenced survey suggest that nine is the magic number of days that most companies offer.
  • Vacation days: Some companies make you earn vacation days based on your time spent in the office, some hand them out at the beginning of the year. The WorldAtWork survey suggests that employers offer an average of 12 vacation days annually.
  • Volunteer/disaster relief leave: If a disaster strikes close to home, employees are generally covered under FMLA. However, if an employee chooses to go to a disaster to help out, certain companies will allow them a period of leave. The states of Connecticut and Illinois, for example, provides qualified folks (defined in their state as those certified by the American Red Cross) to take up to 15 and 20 days, respectively, each year to provide assistance to those in need.

Once you understand the types of leave and decide what you will offer employees, be sure to develop a timekeeping system to keep track of it all. A Professional Employer Organization can help set up a system tailored to your business. Learn how you can eliminate human resource headaches with one call.




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