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Employee leave: An essential guide for 2024

Employee leave is a fact of life across all industries, including customer service. Discover who qualifies for leaves of absence and learn more about them in our comprehensive guide.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated May 20, 2024

What is an employee leave of absence?

An employee leave of absence (LOA) is any paid or unpaid time an employee takes away from work. Businesses can grant employee leave for various reasons, including (but not limited to) childbirth, adoption, illness, or military leave.

The employee experience (EX) is more than table tennis tournaments, Valentine’s Day parties, and branded swag. Employees need to feel supported in their personal lives, too, especially when unexpected and planned events call for employee leave.

Whether it’s a vacation, paid holiday, family and medical leave, or military leave, businesses must be aware of and offer different types of leaves of absence from work. Use our in-depth guide to discover what types of leaves of absence are available, how state leave laws impact your workforce, and best practices for streamlining leave.

More in this guide:

Employee leave considerations: State leave laws

Map of the United States with a color code representing states that offer paid family, bereavement, and jury duty leave.

Whether you’re an employee or an employer, leave of absence eligibility, duration, and requirements vary by state. Before requesting leave, creating employee leave policies, or accepting or denying an employee’s request, check which laws apply to your business and follow them accordingly.

We have included a list of resources below to help employees and employers understand their state’s leave laws.

Resources for state leave laws

Use the chart below to discover your state’s laws about employee leave, government rules about mandated leave, and more.

Resource:Description:Best for:
HelpsideEmployee leave laws categorized by state
  • All employees

U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Laws: Medical and Disability-Related LeaveAn in-depth look at regulations surrounding worker’s compensation, FMLA, and the ADA, including leave requirements, covered individuals, and rules
  • Employees who experienced an on-the-job injury

  • Individuals with disabilities

  • Employees with a medical matter

National Conference of State LegislaturesState family and medical leave laws categorized by state
  • Employees with a family or medical situation

Office of
Human Resources Management: Military leave
Types of military leave and who qualifies
  • Active or inactive duty employees and their families

U.S. Department of Labor: Executive Order 13706Executive Order 13706 and leave for government contractors
  • Federal contractors

Office of
Human Resources Management: Leave Policies
A list of leave policies
  • All employees

9 types of leaves of absence from work

Two icons categorize mandatory and voluntary employee leave and the types of leave available.

You can categorize employee leave as mandatory or voluntary, whether planned or unplanned.

  • Mandatory leave: The federal government controls mandatory leave. Examples of mandatory leave include FMLA and leave permitted by the ADA.
  • Voluntary leave: Voluntary leave is an employee benefit that individual businesses offer and regulate. They may deny this benefit and require employees to qualify before granting it.

Even detailed agent scheduling can’t prepare for unplanned leaves of absence, but it can help manage pre-planned work absences and company-wide holidays. With effective employee experience management practices, companies can support their people by making it easy for employees to take time off when needed.

While this list is non-exhaustive, here are the nine most common types of employee leave that can affect workforce management.

1. Annual leave

Annual leave is a broad category of leave covering various situations, including personal leave, vacations, and mental health days. Employees must request annual leave in a timely manner, and their employers have the right to deny a request.

Annual leave is also referred to as paid time off (PTO) and often gets distributed in three ways:

  • Lump sum: Employees are allowed a set number of annual leave days. These leave days may expire at the end of the year or roll over to the next.
  • Accrual bank: Employees receive PTO days on a regular schedule (usually per pay period) that cannot roll over.
  • Unlimited PTO: Employees have no specified PTO limit.

No matter how businesses assign annual leave, employees are legally entitled to request and receive this time off. Plus, many workers prefer to work at companies where employee leave is flexible and approved within reason. So, this benefit can increase employee engagement and decrease employee turnover. It can also help reduce burnout in industries where it’s most common, like customer service, education, and healthcare.

2. Paid holiday leave

Many businesses include paid holiday leave as a part of their employee compensation and benefits packages. The entire organization will typically observe these holidays. The most common paid holidays are:

  • New Year’s Day

  • Memorial Day

  • Fourth of July

  • Labor Day

  • Thanksgiving

  • Christmas

Depending on the business, employees may also receive paid holidays for other days like Easter Monday, Veterans Day, and Presidents’ Day.

3. Family and medical leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is federally regulated and can provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA also protects an employee’s job and health benefits. For companies with more than 50 employees, this type of leave is available to workers who:

  • Have a child, whether through birth, adoption, or foster placement

  • Need to care for a family member with a health condition

  • Have a serious medical condition requiring extended leave

FMLA leave is often granted in one of two ways:

  • Continuously: An employee takes all their leave in one period.
  • Intermittently: An employee takes part of their leave, returns to work, and then takes additional leave at a later time.

With short-term disability, employees may take up to six months of FMLA leave. If employees are permitted to return to work but are restricted, businesses must evaluate internal roles and present potential employment possibilities for the employee. An employee may get terminated if no other options exist.

Without short-term disability, employees can only take up to 12 weeks of leave (unless they qualify for military caregiver leave). If they cannot return to work, employees may be terminated at the end of a business’s personal leave policy.

4. Compassionate or bereavement leave

Compassionate or bereavement leave is not mandated, but many businesses offer this type of leave at their discretion. This employee leave is reserved for those who have experienced the death of a close friend or relative. Businesses may also permit compassionate or bereavement leave for employees who have lost a pet.

5. Jury duty

Jury duty leave is unregulated and typically unpaid. However, 10 states have paid jury duty requirements, including:

  • Alabama

  • Colorado

  • Connecticut

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Louisiana

  • Massachusetts

  • Nebraska

  • New York

  • Tennessee

Other jury duty state laws prohibit organizations from requiring employees to use PTO when they’re called to serve on a jury.

6. Sick leave

Paid sick leave is not a requirement of federal law. Businesses may grant paid or unpaid sick leave, and this type of employee leave can be allotted through lump sums, accrual, or an unlimited PTO policy.

7. Military leave

Military leave is mandated for certain active and inactive duties in the National Guard and reserves in the armed forces. Organizations must grant military leave requests at full pay, and some laws also require businesses to offer reemployment to military members.

8. Government contractor leave

Employees in established contracts with the federal government are guaranteed up to seven days of paid sick annually. Depending on a worker’s contract, this leave may be accrued or used for certain types of family leave.

9. Sabbatical leave

Employers often offer sabbatical leave for personal and professional development or to help reduce burnout. This unmandated leave can be paid or unpaid, depending on the organization. Workers may also need to meet employment requirements before approving this type of employee leave.

Employee experience trends you should know

As workplace expectations change globally, EX leaders need to know the three trends impacting the modern employee experience. Check out the Zendesk Employee Experience Trends Report 2024 today.

Best practices for employee leave

Well-defined employee leave policies and clear expectations enhance employee satisfaction by promoting organizational transparency. Follow these best practices for optimizing leave and improving EX:

  • Create leave policies: Write clear guidelines for leave eligibility, requests, and approvals. Include compensation information and follow state and federal mandates.
  • Build an internal knowledge base: Leverage knowledge base software like Zendesk to centralize leave policies so employees can quickly and easily access information when requesting or researching employee leave.
  • Make HR easy to reach: Use an internal help desk to make HR officers accessible so employees know where to direct their employee leave questions.
  • Use WFM tools: Workforce management software offers more schedule visibility and helps teams manage planned leaves of absence.

All businesses must provide stellar internal customer service so employees know their leave options before planning leaves of absence or needing to take emergency leave. These best practices also help businesses maintain effective employee experience journey maps to support employees from onboarding to exit.

Frequently asked questions

Streamline leaves of absence with Zendesk

Whether an employee is taking a beach vacation or caring for a sick relative, an HR help desk can streamline your business’s management of HR requests and give employees easy access to information about leaves of absence. Track HR support requests and promote self-service with Zendesk’s AI-powered employee help desk software. You can also simplify scheduling with our robust workforce management software, which automatically factors in employee leave and absences to ensure adequate staffing.

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