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HR Compliance Guide: Types of Employee Leave and How Each Works

HR Compliance Guide: Types of Employee Leave and How Each Works


Organizations can offer many different types of employee leave to their employees, including both paid and unpaid. However, some types of employee leave are mandated by the federal government. Find out what you need to know about the different types of leave that employers can offer to their employees.


1. Federally Required Leave

Family and Medical Leave (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandated that covered employers are required to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, during which time their job remains protected. 
Group health benefits:
The FMLA requires that the employer maintains group health benefits during this leave.  
What is a covered employer under FMLA:
A private employer with 50 or more employees or any public agency, regardless of the number of employees.
Reasons for granting FMLA:
  • The birth of a newborn child of an employee
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • To care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition
  • To take a medical leave of absence when the employee is unable to work due to a serious medical condition
  • Time taken off due to pregnancy complications can be counted against the 12 weeks

Administrative Personal Leave

In cases where FMLA doesn't apply—for example, if an employer has less than 50 employees—employers may choose to implement an Administrative Personal Leave policy.


2. Bereavement Leave

There is no federal mandate requiring employers to offer bereavement leave (or any other type of leave aside from FMLA). However, it is common practice for employers to choose to offer it.

Bereavement leave is either outlined by an official policy or provided on a case-by-case basis and is taken in the event of the death of a loved one. 


3. Personal Leave or Vacation

Federal law does not require organizations to provide personal leave—also known as paid time off (PTO)—or vacation time for employees. However, not providing employees with PTO or vacation time can hinder your recruiting efforts since most organizations do provide it.

Three of the most common approaches to personal leave include:

  • Annual Allotment: A set number of days are allotted per year. They expire or rollover based on an annual date.  
  • Accrual Bank: Time is accrued based on a predetermined schedule, typically monthly or quarterly. There may be limits set on the amount of time an employee can accrue before they stop accruing. This is meant to avoid situations in which employees take several weeks or months off at a time. 
  • Unlimited PTO: Unlimited PTO is an approach that's growing in popularity as employees are seeking more work/life balance.


4. Sick Leave

Paid sick leave is a type of employee leave where an employer-provided benefit where employees do not work during a specified time period as a result of sickness or other health-related issues, yet still receive their normal paycheck. Employers offer paid sick leave as a benefit to employees, either to improve their retention, recruitment, worker quality-of-life, or all of the above. 

Different organizations offer different forms of compensation for sick leave. In some instances, workers receive their full pay while taking a sick day, no matter how long they work. In other cases, employees must accrue sick leave for hours worked before they can access time off for illness.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are no federal legal requirements for employers to offer paid sick leave to workers. However, there is a growing list of cities and states that do require the benefit is provided for qualified individuals. 

With that in mind, companies that are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are required to provide unpaid sick leave for up to 12 weeks, depending on the medical needs of an employee or their immediate family. As the DOL puts it, “in many instances paid leave may be substituted for unpaid FMLA leave.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which expanded paid sick leave and emergency family medical leave. Initially, this legislation was required for certain employers, but now the regulations are voluntary. To learn more about how this impacts employee leave policies, review the following blog


5. Parental and Maternity Leave

Paid family leave (sometimes called parental leave) is a type of employee leave where an extended period of absence granted to employees by employers—typically for the birth of a child or illness—where wages are either fully or partially paid.

According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are allotted 12 weeks of unpaid family leave in the event of the birth or adoption of a child. Some organizations choose to provide paid family leave in order to improve recruitment, retention, and employee satisfaction. 


6. Military Leave

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, employees are entitled to "time off at full pay for certain types of active or inactive duty in the National Guard or as a Reserve of the Armed Forces." This is commonly known as military leave.

USERRA also extends employment and reemployment rights to employees who have been absent from employment due to "service in the uniformed services." Uniformed services include:

  • Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard
  • Army Reserve, Naval Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard and Air National Guard
  • Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
  • Any other category of persons designated by the President in time of war or emergency


7. Unpaid Leave

Unpaid time off is time away from work an employee can take without pay. Employees can use the unpaid time off if they’re sick, want to take a vacation, or have other obligations and don't have the PTO banked to receive pay for their absence. Additionally, an employee can take an unpaid leave of absence, which is an extended period of time away from work. 

Employers can offer unpaid time off in addition to, or instead of paid time off.


8. Jury Duty

As a citizen, one of the most important civic duties is attending jury dutyEach district court summons eligible citizens within the local area to serve in courts on a jury. When one receives a summons, there’s a possibility for dismissal. However, if dismissal is early enough in the day, employers may expect the employee to return to the office for the remainder of the workday.

On the other hand, there’s potential to receive a summons to serve on a jury that goes on for months. Employers need a jury duty policy to speak on all possible scenarios. Many companies provide paid time off for employees to report for jury duty, as it is federally mandated; however, some employers provide unpaid time off instead.


9. Election Day

Unlike many other countries, the United States doesn’t have a national voting holiday. And because American elections take place during the week, employees who work 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday jobs must ask off, leave work early, or arrive late to vote. With this in mind, there are a number of requirements, regulations, and protections in place that safeguard employee voting.

Some private companies offer PTO for voting, but they’re in the minority. On the other hand, in more than a dozen states, Election Day is a paid holiday. But elsewhere, employees must ask off, vote early, or arrive late to the polls.

According to the policy institute Workplace Fairness, almost every state requires employers to permit employees to take time off to vote, though these rules and regulations differ from state to state. Equally important, almost every state prohibits employers from firing or punishing workers who take time off to vote—and other regulations exist to protect workers from voter intimidation, as compiled by SHRM. 


10. Holidays

Many employers recognize federal holidays as paid holidays in their compensation and benefits packages. These holidays are more likely to apply to full-time salaried employees than they are to apply to full-time hourly employees. Part-time employees rarely benefit from paid holidays. 

Most common paid holidays in the U.S.:

  • New Year's Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas

Less common paid holidays in the U.S.:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • President’s Day
  • Easter
  • Juneteenth
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans’ Day
  • Black Friday
  • Christmas Eve
  • New Year’s Eve


11. Umbrella Leave Policies

Instead of developing individual policies for different types of leave, some employers choose to implement an "umbrella" leave policy. Under this type of policy, employees have either an accrued, annual, or unlimited allotment of paid time off to use for holidays, vacation, personal reasons, and illness.

Overall, this is often easier to manage from an administrative standpoint. 

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