How Does a Leave of Absence Work?

Reasons for Leaves of Absence

There are several reasons that one may need to take a leave of absence, including maternity, illness, military service or personal reasons. Some of these types of leaves are covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and are typically outlines for employees in employment manuals. Each company has different guidelines in place for FMLA leaves, including length of employment required in order to qualify, allowable length of leave, etc. This information is readily available through the Human Resources department of the company.

Depending upon the terms of your employment, your leave will either be paid or unpaid (most are unpaid). Paid leaves of absence include bereavement, jury duty, or an employer requested leave due to contractual obligations or because the employee's work area is undergoing renovation and is unusable for a certain amount of time.

Requesting A Leave

The first step in obtaining a leave of absence is to request one from your employer. Each company has its own accepted procedures for this type of request, so it is best to inquire with the Human Resources department to find out exactly how to proceed. Depending on the size and type of company you work for, you may need to write a letter requesting your leave before the process can officially be set in motion.

Typically, there will be a face to face meeting with your manager, supervisor and Human Resources administrator to discuss the reasons for the request and to either deny or approve your leave of absence, and to complete any required paperwork.


Leaves of absence can last from 1 to 2 days to several months, depending upon the nature of the leave. The purpose of a leave is to be able to get necessary time off without losing employment. While most leaves are unpaid, certain benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings will remain in place for the duration of the leave, with the employee being required to make payments for the premiums and contributions.