Time off work is essential for even the most dedicated, driven employees. There are many reasons a person would need to step away on occasion. Companies that accommodate their employees with robust leave options typically benefit from happier, healthier workers who more efficiently manage their work-life balance.
Many types of leave exist for employees. HR must acquaint themselves with the processes of each and decide if the company will offer them. This article lays out the various types of leave, including required and optional leave examples.
Why employers must understand the different types of leave
Structuring and communicating a leave program that benefits both employees and employer requires understanding the different types of leave available. Compensation conversations that address employee leave policies during the interview process can instill confidence in job candidates seeking a healthy work-life balance. Existing employees will appreciate the chance to enjoy life events, vacations, or downtime to recharge.
It’s also vital for companies to abide by state and federal laws with employee leave stipulations. Some require organizations to offer certain types of leave.
The difference between paid and unpaid time off
Paid time off is a popular part of an employee benefits or compensation package in public and private companies of all sizes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in March 2021 state and local governments offered an average of 12 sick days and 16 vacation days to employees who’d been there 5 years. Private companies provided an average of 7 sick days and 15 vacation days. Generally employees can take PTO for any reason and will receive their regular salary or hourly wage.
Unpaid time off occurs when an employee takes time off without pay. Employers hold the jobs for them, and they are still considered company employees. Common reasons people take unpaid leave are sabbatical leave and extended leave of absence or medical leave.
Types of leave required to offer or allow
State or federal law guarantees some instances of leave. These requirements are put in place to protect employees’ rights. However, the employee is required to meet the qualifications for these types of leave before being approved.
Jury duty leave (civic leave)
It’s against the law for employers to try to block an employee from serving jury duty. Jury duty leave may be paid leave or, for nonexempt employees, might be unpaid leave.
Courts typically provide jurors a token monetary compensation for days spent and certain commute expenses incurred while serving. But it’s often not what an employer would pay for the same days’ work.
Organizations are legally required to allow service member employees to return to their positions after completing military training or service. The employee is also entitled to any seniority-based benefits they would have received during military leave.
Family and medical leave
Per the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with 50 or more employees are legally required to offer eligible employees up to 12 workweeks’ unpaid leave annually in certain circumstances. Qualifying situations include parental leave and employees with a serious medical condition or assisting a sick family member. Extended entitlements exist for qualifying family members of eligible military personnel.
This applies to maternity leave and paternal leave, typically for giving birth or adopting a child. This type of leave may be unpaid, although some companies offer paid maternity leave as a perk.
Paid sick leave isn’t required, but the FMLA includes unpaid sick leave. Many companies do offer paid sick leave as part of their PTO policy. Some designate a certain number of paid sick days employees are entitled to receive each year.
Types of “nice to offer” leaves
Some types of leave aren’t required by federal or local laws but are formulated at the employer’s discretion. These offerings show employees they value their physical and mental health and well-being.
Paid holidays are part of many benefits packages, even if they aren’t legally required. Some companies offer the main public holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, and others) as paid days off. Others provide additional holidays and even the employee’s birthday off, whether paid or unpaid. The number of paid holidays depends on the company’s culture and total employee compensation plan.
Most companies offer paid vacation days to their full-time employees, though the amount can vary. Some companies may only offer a week, while others may offer 6 or more. Paid vacation time often accrues based on the employee’s tenure with the organization.
When an immediate family member dies, the affected employee may receive time off to grieve the loss. Bereavement leave can be used to travel for the funeral, handle any responsibilities connected to the event, and spend time with family.
Some organizations allow employees to take extended time off to pursue their passions. (Often this is offered only to those who have been with the company for years.) These sabbaticals are typically unpaid, although some companies pay employees in certain positions during sabbatical leave.
This leave is frequently called “comp time” and occurs when an employee worked extra hours during a period. As payback, the employer gives them time off. For example, employees who worked on a big project over the weekend or hosted a tradeshow booth could receive comp time to use at their leisure.
Understanding the types of leave can help foster better employer-employee relationships
When an organization understands employee leave, what’s required, and what’s optional, it helps them craft a policy their employees will appreciate and value. Doing so is a reflection of a thoughtful compensation philosophy. The ability to access leave when employees need it is one of the most appreciated accommodations companies can offer them.
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