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How to Create a Personal Leave of Absence Policy

A personal leave of absence policy is your company’s set of guidelines for taking time off work for personal reasons. Personal leave is a broader category than sick leave or vacation time, and can be taken for a wide variety of reasons. However, just because you have a personal leave policy doesn’t mean that other leave laws don’t apply.

Here’s how to create a personal leave of absence policy for your employees, and how to ensure it complies with state and federal employment laws.

What Does a Personal Leave of Absence Policy Cover?

There are two main types of leave of absence: mandatory leave and voluntary leave. A personal leave of absence could fall into either of these categories depending on the underlying reason for leave. Mandatory leave covers situations such as:

  • Medical leave: Employers are obligated to provide time off for certain medical conditions under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some state laws also require employers to provide paid sick time.
  • Military leave: Employers are required to provide time off for issues relating to military service, including to take care of an ill or injured service member.
  • Parental leave: New parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, or the placement of a foster child. Some states, such as New York and Colorado, also provide paid parental leave.

Voluntary leave, on the other hand, is up to the employer’s discretion. Some employers offer more generous leave policies as an employee benefit, but they must still abide by any state or federal laws that apply. Voluntary leave may include:

  • Paid time off (PTO): Employees may accrue a certain amount of paid time off or personal leave based on the number of hours they work. The amount of PTO an employee receives is a matter of law in some states.
  • Bereavement leave: Bereavement leave is a type of personal leave set aside for attending a funeral or making arrangements following the death of a loved one.
  • Sabbatical leave: An employee might request an extended leave of absence in order to take a course, write a book, or focus on personal development.

Although employers have some discretion in whether or not to approve personal leave, these guidelines should be set out in a clear personal leave of absence policy.

In some cases, an employee might be eligible for mandatory and voluntary leave at the same time. For example, an employee can draw from their sick time or personal leave balance while on unpaid FMLA leave.

When Is Personal Leave Mandatory?

How do you know whether an employee’s request for personal leave falls under FMLA regulations or other legal requirements? In short, you have to ask them.

Although an employee should never be required to provide invasive details about their personal life or medical condition, they may need to give you some idea of the reason for their leave request beyond “personal reasons.”

For example, if an employee asks for personal leave because they feel “burned out,” they may qualify for a medical leave of absence for mental health conditions. 

FMLA comes into play when several conditions are met:

  • You’re a covered employer. Aside from schools and government agencies, only private companies with 50 or more employees are bound by FMLA.
  • They’re an eligible employee. FMLA applies to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year, and at least one year in total.
  • They have a qualifying condition. FMLA covers situations such as the birth of a child, the employee’s own serious health condition, or the injury or illness of an immediate family member.

If an employee qualifies for FMLA, they have certain entitlements that aren’t available to them under an ordinary personal leave of absence policy. These include job protection (i.e., the right to reinstatement when they’re ready to return to work) and the right to keep their health insurance while on FMLA leave.

Employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. After this period of time, they may be eligible for additional leave as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Benefits of Having a Personal Leave Policy

Personal leave of absence policy: mother talking on the phone while carrying her baby

If your organization doesn’t have a personal leave of absence policy, then your human resources team will have to assess each request on a case by case basis, which can lead to roadblocks in the leave of absence management process.

The benefits of a having a company-wide personal leave policy include:


Setting out clear guidelines in your company policy or employee handbook allows you to handle each employee’s leave request fairly and accurately. Instead of getting caught by surprise when an employee asks for a sabbatical, you’ll know exactly how much leave they’re entitled to, and whether it’s paid or unpaid. You can even provide templates so employees can submit leave requests in a standardized format.


Creating a personal leave of absence policy makes it easier to ensure that you comply with all applicable state and federal employment laws. Although your company policy can exceed these requirements, it should never offer fewer leave entitlements.

You can use your leave of absence management system to create a rules engine that automatically checks each approved leave request for regulatory compliance.


Having a generous personal leave of absence policy can attract new talent and improve employee retention. Although unpaid personal leave has its place, a paid sabbatical or paid parental leave policy can help your organization stand out.

How to Implement a Personal Leave of Absence Policy

Once you’re familiar with the relevant laws in your state, it’s time to put your personal leave of absence policy into place. Here are three best practices to keep in mind:

1. Set Clear Guidelines

Ensure that your personal leave of absence policy is easy for employees to abide by and understand. Can employees draw from personal leave benefits if they run out of sick leave or vacation time? Can employees work a second job while on leave?

These policies need to be applied fairly and uniformly, especially if an employee is on short or long-term disability leave.

2. Assess Leave Eligibility

A personal leave of absence usually refers to non-medical leave, but employees might not always know which category their leave request falls under. Employees could use their personal leave balance for anything from jury duty to bereavement.

Request enough information that you can categorize the leave appropriately, including certification from a health care provider for a medical leave of absence.

3. Track Leave Accurately

The amount of personal leave that an employee is entitled to depends on which types of mandatory leave they qualify for, and how much voluntary leave they’ve accrued.

By using a leave management system to track personal leave, you’ll be able to monitor an employee’s remaining leave balance and identify cases of fraud or absenteeism.

Standardize Your Personal Leave of Absence Policy

Entrepreneur carrying a box

Although your human resources department can approve requests for personal leave on a case-by-case basis, having a personal leave of absence policy ensures that you handle each case accurately and fairly. A generous personal leave policy can attract employees to your company while helping you comply with employment law.

Pulpstream is a cloud-based HR automation platform that makes it easy to assess leave of absence requests and track employee leave balances. Plus, by digitizing the leave of absence process, you’ll empower employees to submit their own leave of absence requests and upload any necessary supporting documents online.

Contact us today to schedule a demo and learn more!