What is a Leave of Absence?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Leave of absence (LOA) has a flexible definition, typically referring to an employee taking a period of unpaid leave. Upon agreement with the employer, the person has the right to return to work after the leave. The amount of leave varies from a few days to several months or much longer, especially if leave is being granted to answer a call to duty by a country’s armed forces.

In understanding this concept, it helps to exclude some types of leave of absence examples that differ from the standard LOA. A sabbatical is one of these, most often used in academia, where people take a leave for sometimes up to a year in which they may still perform some academic work, like research, traveling or studying, which will help inform their work in the future. Usually, sabbaticals are taken at reduced pay instead of no pay, and must be approved by university heads. Being able to take one of these leaves is often tied to holding tenure.

Other leaves that are not a true leave of absence are things like taking a planned short vacation or a few days off to recover from illness. These are usually part of employee benefits and people are entitled to take them yearly. The LOA differs from these in most respects.


A true leave of absence is if people plan a long period where they will need to care for themselves or someone else, like a newborn or aging parent. Maternity leave is an LOA. Some countries have paid maternity leave but many others do not. Other forms of the LOA could be instigated to recover from illness or care for family members, usually for a lengthier time than yearly granted sick time. Through the US Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most full-time employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year if the requested leave falls into one of these categories.

FMLA guarantees that a job must be held for the person for the extent of the leave. It does not guarantee pay during it, though a few companies may offer this benefit. The leave doesn’t have to happen all at once either, but can occur on an as–needed basis throughout the year. This protects employees from negative reviews if the number of their absences are higher than normal. Many other countries have similar laws in place so employees can attend to family or personal needs that require more time than an employer normally grants.

Some companies allow employees to take a leave of absence that is not necessarily crucially needed. An employee, suffering burnout, dealing with a complex life situation, or given the opportunity to participate in some form of community service job might request a leave exceeding legal rights. Some employers will grant this request, but aren’t required to do so. If request for leave is denied, employers might invite employees to reapply for work with the company upon their return.


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Post 2

When my mother became very sick from diabetes complications, I felt like I needed to be her full-time caretaker for a while, rather than try to work my regular hours and then run directly to the hospital or nursing home. The company had other employees who could do what I did, so I put in for an FMLA leave of absence. My boss was not exactly happy about it at first, but the head of human resources reminded him that FMLA was a law, not just a good idea.

Thankfully, I didn't have to stay out of work for the entire 12 weeks allowed by the FMLA. My mother's health improved to the point where I could work a

regular shift and not have to leave the office for emergencies. It was an unpaid leave, but my boss later gave me a personal "gift" that helped with some of the expenses. I have a feeling it was a love offering from my co-workers.
Post 1

I never thought I'd ever take a leave of absence from a job, but last year the organ at my church fell into disrepair and I was the paid organist. I didn't want the church feeling compelled to pay me for not performing while the organ was being repaired. As soon as I knew the repairs would be lengthy and expensive, I put in for an official unpaid leave of absence.

Five months later, the organ repairman assured me that the organ was once again in playable condition, so I returned to work a week later. I still attended services every week during my leave of absence, but I found I needed some time away from the pressures of performing every week. I think a leave of absence is a great way for employees to recover from burnout without having to quit the position permanently.

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