What is a leave of absence?

A leave of absence (LOA) is time people can take off from work for extraordinary circumstances. If a company’s policies concerning time off, sick leave, vacation, and holidays cover LOA, then the team member on leave can receive payment. Otherwise, the leave of absence is unpaid. While companies may not always compensate people for a leave of absence, they do provide protective benefits, and the person on leave can access their health insurance and accrue vacation days.

Mandatory leaves of absence are required by the local, state, or federal government for jury duty, military service, and significant life events such as:

  • Adoption 
  • Severe health issues
  • Caring for an ill family member

Federal law, for example, regulates mandatory LOA through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which ensures people can take up to 12 weeks off of unpaid leave.

For a voluntary leave of absence, the employer can choose to offer it as a benefit for reasons including: 

  • Moving
  • Personal or family upheaval
  • Pursuing a passion or higher education

Why should HR leaders care about leaves of absence?

Life upheavals can be stressful, emotionally draining, and disruptive. However, properly managing a leave of absence enables people to undergo tumultuous life events while maintaining the safety net of a secure job. A leave of absence that satisfies legal requirements and employees’ needs can nurture commitment and morale among team members, ultimately boosting loyalty and retention.

What can HR leaders do to manage leaves of absence effectively?

HR leaders can incorporate these practices to manage leaves of absence successfully:

  • Know the rules. Understand the government rules regarding leaves of absence. Familiarity with these regulations ensures that the company can fulfill its obligations, treat people fairly, and avoid lawsuits.  
  • Create a leave of absence policy. Draft an LOA policy and include it in the employee handbook for easy accessibility. Explain the criteria for taking a leave of absence and the rules of paid and unpaid leave. Include a return to work policy that outlines the procedure for people returning from disability and the accommodations they’ll receive.
  • Assess each situation. People taking leave for different reasons will have different needs. By categorizing each type of LOA, the employer can ensure equal and transparent treatment. Documenting all decisions, situation details, procedures, and correspondence with the person taking a leave of absence is key to avoiding discrimination and favoritism.  
  • Provide training for supervisors. Supervisors must know the appropriate behavioral conduct for people on a leave of absence, especially for those on bereavement leave. Thus, it’s important to train supervisors in policy compliance and managing sensitive situations tactfully and compassionately.

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Why should leaves of absence be part of modern HR strategy?

A leave of absence policy that adheres to the law and fosters compassion shows people that the company cares about their wellbeing. A positive employee-employer relationship sets the foundation for building a dedicated, productive, and happy workforce.