In an ideal situation, an employee submits their leave of absence request promptly, your HR team requests any necessary documentation, and the employee is able to take the time they need off work. But what happens in cases where multiple types of leave are available, or the employee has already used up some of their leave balance?
Having a leave management process in place ensures that you can quickly assess any complex cases that come your way, and maintain the appropriate documentation.
Here’s what employers need to know about leave of absence requests, including an example of what an effective LoA request looks like.
What Is a Leave of Absence Request?
A leave of absence request is an employee’s request to take time off work for personal, medical, or family reasons. The format of a leave request depends on the type of leave of absence the employee is requesting, and the company’s leave of absence policy.
For unpaid leave in a casual workplace, a leave of absence request could be as simple as a conversation with a manager or a note on a shared calendar. But if an employee wants to take leave for an extended period of time or for a protected reason, such as maternity leave, they should submit a written request for leave in advance.
A formal leave of absence request should outline the reason for leave, the employee’s expected return date, and any other information that is relevant to their situation. Some types of leave have specific forms to fill out or may require medical documentation, but there are limits to what kind of information an employer is allowed to ask for.
What Types of Leave Can Employees Take?
Leave of absence requests typically fall into one of two categories: mandatory leave and voluntary leave.
Mandatory leave requests are those that are mandated by local, state, or federal law for employees who meet the eligibility requirements, such as:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): This law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees for qualifying reasons, such as the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to treat the employee’s own medical condition.
- The Americans with Disability Act (ADA): This federal law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with a condition that limits their ability to perform the essential functions of their job. ADA leave is one of many reasonable accommodations that could apply.
- Voting, military service, and jury duty: Employers are required to provide time off for certain responsibilities, although the specific requirements vary from state to state, and may be paid or unpaid.
Voluntary leave requests are determined by company policy. Although companies can set their own personal leave policies, they should be applied fairly and consistently, as outlined in the employee handbook. Reasons for voluntary leave include:
- Sick leave: Employees typically accrue sick days based on the number of hours worked. Although employees can take FMLA leave to address their own medical condition or that of a loved one, sick leave covers situations that are less serious or shorter in duration. Paid time off (PTO) is mandatory in some locations.
- Personal leave: Employees may request leave for personal reasons, such as to take a sabbatical, further their education, or move to a new house. It’s up to the employer’s discretion whether to allow extended leave for personal reasons.
- Bereavement leave: Employees may need time off to attend a funeral or make arrangements after the death of a loved one. Although this isn’t mandated in all states, at least a few, such as Oregon and Illinois, require it.
Sometimes, multiple types of leave might come into play. For example, parental leave is guaranteed under federal law, but your company might have its own paid parental leave policy that’s longer or more generous. Some states, like New York and California, also provide Paid Family Leave that runs concurrently with FMLA leave.
Leave of Absence Request Best Practices
Don’t wait until an unexpected situation arises and one of your employees needs to take time off work for family or medical reasons. By standardizing your company’s leave of absence process, you’ll be able to field leave of absence requests more quickly and comply with employment law. Here are five best practices to keep in mind:
1. Put your company policies in writing.
Mandatory leave laws have strict eligibility requirements, while voluntary leave policies are more flexible. Your human resources department should clearly explain your leave policies in your employee handbook to avoid confusion or misapplication.
For example, how far in advance should employees request leave? Will they continue to receive employee benefits while on an unpaid leave of absence? Who is responsible for approving or denying leave requests?
2. Take the initiative.
Sometimes, an employee might qualify for mandatory leave without putting in a formal request. If an employee is struggling to get work done due to stress or anxiety, they may be eligible for a medical leave of absence for mental health reasons, but they may be reluctant to request it or unaware that it’s an option.
Just because an employee doesn’t know they’re eligible for FMLA leave doesn’t mean your human resources team is exempt from providing it.
3. Provide the necessary paperwork.
Some types of leave require specific forms, such as a certification of the employee’s health condition for medical leave under FMLA. Others may require a back-and-forth conversation, such as ADA leave via the ADA interactive process.
Consider providing a leave of absence request form that employees can use to begin the conversation and streamline the approval process.
4. Don’t ask for unnecessary information.
Employees should provide you with the general reason they want to take leave, but they don’t need to answer questions about specific health issues or medical procedures.
If you need to confirm that they have an FMLA-qualifying reason for leave, or a disability as defined by the ADA, their health care provider should be able to provide you with the documentation you need without compromising the employee’s privacy.
5. Establish a return-to-work process.
Employees on job-protected leave are entitled to reinstatement in the same position, or a substantially equivalent one. If you plan to ask for a fitness-for-duty certification when they return from medical leave, this should be explained in your designation notice.
Keep in mind that an employee’s medical situation may change, and they may need to extend their leave of absence beyond their anticipated end date.
Sample Employee Leave of Absence Request Template
Although every leave of absence request is different, there are some important pieces of information to include in a leave of absence request letter. Here’s an example of a clear and concise leave of absence request for medical reasons:
[Employee’s Phone Number]
Dear Mr./Ms./Mx. [Supervisor]
I am writing to request a leave of absence for medical reasons beginning on [start date] and ending on [end date]. I will be recovering from a medical procedure, and my doctor has advised me to remain on bed rest for up to four weeks.
My contact information will remain the same during my absence, and I’ll be available to answer any questions that come up regarding my usual workload. However, I won’t be able to return to the office until I have fully recovered.
Please let me know if you have any questions and if you need any other information to move forward with my request.
Standardize the LoA Request Process With Pulpstream
A leave of absence request is usually the first piece of information an employee needs to provide to request time off work. A leave of absence request can range from a written note to a manager to an official FMLA form provided by the Department of Labor (DOL). Your company’s leave policies should be clearly defined in the employee handbook.
Pulpstream makes it easy to handle leave of absence requests with our cloud-based leave management system. Our no-code platform can help you assess an employee’s eligibility, track their remaining FMLA leave balance, and more. Plus, employees can submit their medical documentation online for convenience and confidentiality.
Request a demo today to see Pulpstream at work!