How To Take A Leave of Absence From Work

leave of absence

A leave of absence is a legally sanctioned time off your employer must provide you based on personal needs. It can be paid or unpaid, depending on the type. Common reasons include sick days, maternity leave, or family death. Many people use this time to evaluate their current life goals, set new ones, and create actionable steps to achieve them.

Have you ever worked with one of those people that never use a sick day? Not because they never need it, but because they’re paralyzed in fear that requesting it will get them fired? Then, they show up to work sniffling and coughing, getting everyone else sick too. It’s actually a super common feeling among employees. 

Most of Western society has convinced people (and managers) that taking well-needed time off for personal reasons is a huge no-no. Not only is this not correct, but it can actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health. As humans, we’re not made to work non-stop for days and days with very little rest in between. 

If you’ve been thinking of requesting some time off, but are not sure if you should, you’ll hopefully find this article useful. We’ll talk about what a leave of absence actually is, what it looks like legally in Canada, and productive ways you can use that time off for. For information about US rules and regulations, we recommend checking out the article about FMLA linked in the Related Readings section below. 

What is a leave of absence?

In simple terms, a leave of absence is when as an employee, you request time off work from your employer. It can involve anything from a few hours to a few months, and you may or may not get paid while you’re gone. Benefits (like medical coverage) might also not be applicable during your time off, depending on the reason for the leave. 

The biggest thing to take into account when asking for a leave of absence is your country’s laws regarding them. On top of that, internal company policies and provincial or federal rules might also affect your employer’s decision to approve your request or not.  

Who can take a leave of absence?

If you’re an employee working for an employer, you’re technically allowed to request a leave of absence. That said, remember that your employer must stick to both national and provincial rules about time off and that most companies will also have their own policies. 

For example, while you might be entitled to vacation time by law, your employer might now allow for more than a week at a time to be taken off due to coverage. 

We know it can be a little confusing, so below is a list of reasons why you could request a leave of absence in Canada:

  • To vote
  • Maternity/parental leave
  • Adoption
  • Jury duty
  • General illness (mental and physical)
  • Organ donation
  • Parental responsibilities (like your child being sick)
  • A death in the family
  • Family emergencies (like a loved one being in the hospital)
  • Military duty
  • Vacation

What are the legal stipulations associated with a leave of absence?

One of the biggest issues when it comes to taking a leave of absence is that employees don’t know what they’re entitled to by law. If you’re taking sick time due to mental health issues, can you still use your benefits to see a doctor? Can your company eliminate your position while you’re on maternity leave?

While again, each rule might vary by province, in most cases your position at the company is legally protected while you’re gone. This means that they can’t fire you, or “get rid” of the position. If anything changes, they need your written agreement first. If not, and they decide to let you go anyhow, you’re entitled to severance pay. Your benefits and vacation time accrual will also still be running while you’re off.  

You do, however, need to let your employer know in advance that you need the time off (preferably in writing) and advise them of the type of leave of absence you’re taking. It’s not necessary to specify who’s sick or the illness type, but you do need to tell your boss you need to take off due to a family medical emergency. For most types of leaves, you also don’t need to have been employed for any specific amount of time before you’re allowed to use them.  

What should you do during a leave of absence?

A leave of absence is a great time to re-evaluate life goals without the daily work grind getting in the way. Depending on why you’re away from your job, you might get to sleep more, stress less, and have more time to focus on yourself. We find that a lot of people tend to use this time to do some soul searching. Especially if they’re not truly happy with their current work-life situation. Does this sound like you? If so, here are some ideas to make sure you squeeze this time off work for all it’s worth:

Take a personal goal-setting course.

The Personal Annual Plan course offered right here at Professional Leadership Institute, is a great option. It’s free of charge, and an excellent way to do some introspection work. In this course, we’ll teach you a three-step process to reach your goals. We’ll start with figuring out what your dreams are, then we’ll set clear steps to achieve them. From there, we’ll work together and show you how to actually act on the plan you created.   

Enjoy some rest and recreation. 

When we’re always working, always busy, always focusing on something else, we barely have time for ourselves. While earning money is important, there’s no use in working so hard if you’re not going to enjoy life too. Use your leave of absence to relax and do all the things you love doing but never have time for. Play with your dog, go to the cinema on a Tuesday morning, or sit in a park watching the ducks swim by.  

Stay active. 

Both your brain and your body should be kept active while you take your leave of absence. Maybe there’s a book you’ve been meaning to read for months or a workout class that’s only available during 9-5. There’s nothing better for personal health than ending the day tired from being productive!

Use it for exactly what you requested

Are you off sick? Did you just have a baby? Do you have your dream trip to the Maldives booked? A leave of absence is requested for specific reasons. Make sure you’re actually using that time on what made you step away in the first place. 

Related Readings

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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