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Extended Leaves of Absence: Policies and Best Practices

Many organizations offer their employees some form of paid time off or sick leave, and in fact, some state laws require it. But what happens if an employee wants to take an extended leave of absence that goes beyond what’s allowed under company policy? And what if they want to extend their leave of absence after it’s already started?

Let’s take a look at some common situations that may call for an extended leave of absence, and how you can track it using HR automation tools.

What Is an Extended Leave of Absence?

An extended leave of absence is one that lasts longer than what would ordinarily be covered by your organization’s time-off policy. There isn’t a precise definition of what counts as “extended leave,” but it typically refers to a leave of absence that lasts for more than a few weeks, and could last as long as a year.

For circumstances that are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), such as the illness of a family member or the birth of a child, the maximum amount of leave that employees are entitled to is 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period.

However, this isn’t a fixed limit. Some employees may be entitled to an extended period of leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or for Military Caregiver Leave. Your HR team will need to assess each leave request on a case-by-case basis.

Types of Extended Leave of Absence

Not all types of leave of absence call for an extended period of time off work. Even an employee with a serious health condition may only be entitled to a short-term leave of absence or a reduced work schedule.

For situations that aren’t covered by state or federal law, whether or not an employee is eligible for leave will depend on your company’s leave of absence policy.

Here are five situations that may require an extended leave of absence, and how to determine an employee’s leave entitlements:

Medical Leave

Medical leave is one of the most common reasons for taking an extended leave. Eligible employees are entitled to FMLA leave for certain qualifying reasons, including their own injury or illness or that of an immediate family member.

FMLA leave is job-protected leave, which means the employee can’t be fired from their job while on leave and they can keep their health insurance.

Although employees can take a maximum of 12 weeks of leave under FMLA, they can only take leave for as long as their medical condition requires it. To extend a medical leave of absence, they may need to provide another medical certification.

Military Leave

Military leave can refer to several different types of leave, each with their own eligibility requirements. Service members may be entitled to extended leave in order to perform military service, according to

Employees who aren’t in the military themselves may be entitled to Military Caregiver Leave if they’re caring for an ill or injured service member or veteran. This is a type of FMLA leave that allows for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

Parental Leave

Parental leave is one of the only types of FMLA leave that automatically provides up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12 month period. Employees can take parental leave to:

  • Adopt a new child
  • Bond with a new child
  • Welcome a child into foster care

Both parents are entitled to the full 12-week allotment, and can take it at any time during the first year of the child’s arrival. Parental leave is usually unpaid, except in states that provide paid parental leave, such as New York and California.

ADA Leave

According to the Department of Labor, employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees with a qualifying disability. This could consist of physical changes to the work environment — like a modified workspace or the installation of an ADA-accessible bathroom — but it could also involve a leave of absence.

This applies even if the employee has already used all of their FMLA leave balance. For example, if an FMLA-qualifying medical condition turns into a long-term disability, then the employee may be eligible for an extended leave of absence.


Extended leave of absence: employee carrying a box of his things

A sabbatical is a personal leave of absence request that’s intended to serve as a period of personal growth or professional development. An employee might take a sabbatical to write a book, learn a new language, spend time with family, or travel abroad.

Although sabbaticals have long been associated with the academic world, more and more private companies offer sabbaticals as an employee benefit.

Because sabbaticals tend to involve an extended leave of absence — anywhere from a few months to a full year — they require advance planning and are usually reserved for employees who have already put in several years of employment.

Can You Extend a Leave of Absence?

In an ideal situation, an employee submits their leave of absence request in advance, and is ready to return to work on the specified end date. But what happens if they’re unable to return to work and they want to extend their leave of absence?

If an employee is on FMLA leave and the extension is for medical treatment or recovery, then you may be required to honor the employee’s request. FMLA is job-protected, so you can’t fire an employee for requesting to extend their leave, but you can ask for a recertification from their health care provider.

If the leave of absence isn’t covered by FMLA or the ADA, and isn’t related to military service or jury duty, then you have some discretion as to whether or not to honor it. Extending a leave of absence by a few work days may not be a big deal, but if you suspect an employee is abusing your leave of absence policy, get legal advice.

Extended Leave of Absence Best Practices

In most cases, you can treat an extended leave of absence the same way you would a short-term leave of absence. Here are three best practices to follow:

1. Document Your LoA Policies

First, get familiar with the employment laws in your city and state. Some types of leave may be job-protected, while others can be treated as optional employee benefits, such as paid parental leave or an extended sabbatical.

Outline your leave of absence policies in your employee handbook, so your employees know what they’re entitled to, and you can make sure to apply them fairly.

2. Automate LoA Requests

Using a leave of absence management system can reduce the time it takes to process leave requests. You can use templates to ensure that leave requests are submitted in a standardized format, and give employees the tools they need to upload their medical certifications or check on the status of their leave request.

By digitizing the process, you can automatically approve straightforward requests and free your human resources team up to handle more complex cases.

3. Track Leave Balances

Leave of absence tracking is an essential part of LoA management. This is especially important if an employee takes multiple types of leave, or transitions from one type of leave to another. When an employee asks to extend their leave, you’ll be able to see how many hours of each type of leave they have remaining.

Speed Up the LoA Approval Process With Automation 

Employee happily working at home

Extended leaves of absence can range from cases of medical necessity to a sabbatical. Whether or not an employee is entitled to an extended leave of absence will depend on whether it falls under FMLA regulations or your company leave policy. In some cases, an employee may be able to extend a leave of absence after it’s already begun.

With Pulpstream, you can set up a rule engine to assess eligibility for multiple types of leave and streamline the approval process. Our cloud-based HR automation platform can help you process LoA requests, track leave balances, and more.

Contact us today to request a demo and see it in action!