How to Request a Leave of Absence From Work

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At some point, you may need to request a leave of absence from work. It could be for one of a variety of reasons: personal or family health problems, the birth or adoption of a child, relief from excessive job stress, the loss of a loved one, or the desire to travel or pursue a hobby.

What Is a Leave of Absence?

What’s a leave of absence, and how does it impact your employment? A leave of absence is an extended period of time off from your job.

Depending on the organization, you may simply be able to ask for time off from work. Or there may be a formal process you need to follow to get approved for a leave of absence. In most cases, a leave of absence is an agreement between an employee and an employer. Depending on the type of leave of absence you take, your benefits may, or may not, continue.

Other than for leaves covered by The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), military duty, jury duty, and some other particular circumstances, federal law does not require your employer to approve your request, nor are they required to provide paid personal leave.

Some cities and states have laws that provide for paid sick leave from work. Your employer may provide paid or unpaid leaves of absence to employees under certain circumstances.

Check with your manager, human resources department, or state department of labor for guidelines in your location.

Before You Ask for a Leave From Work

Regardless of why you're asking for a leave of absence, it's important to approach the request properly so you can get the leave approved and maintain your good standing at work:

Casual Workplace

Requesting and obtaining a leave of absence when you work in a casual environment can be as simple as saying to your boss, "I need a leave of absence. Would it be possible to take a leave from work for two months?"

Formal Workplace

In more formal workplaces, you may need to frame your request per company policy. The company may have guidelines for who is eligible for a leave of absence, and when and how often one can be taken.

Know Company Policy

Before submitting a request, be sure to familiarize yourself with your company's policies. You should also have a well-practiced explanation on hand. Make a decision before broaching the topic about what your next move will be if your request is turned down.

How to Request a Leave of Absence

© The Balance, 2018

Below are some tips for requesting a leave of absence, with examples of letters you can use to get ideas for your own correspondence.

Check Your Eligibility Before You Ask

Research your organization's policy regarding leaves of absence and determine whether your situation is addressed under the policy. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide employees with time off (without pay) for serious family and personal medical conditions requiring care, for the birth or adoption of a child or the placement of a child into foster care with the employee, and for emergencies arising from a family member’s active military duty. 
  • Some states and local municipalities have legislation that provides for paid sick leave.
  • Employees are also entitled to a leave of absence for jury duty or if they're called into active military duty.
  • Employers are not, however, required to give you a leave of absence simply because you want one.

Explore Options for Taking a Leave

Before you request a leave, consider how flexible you can be if your employer isn't able to give you the time you requested.

If a partial leave will enable you to meet your goals, explore the feasibility of reducing your hours: In some cases, a partial leave is preferable for all involved. A part-time proposal may be more acceptable to your employer, and you will maintain some cash flow.

Consider a temporary work-from-home arrangement rather than a full leave: For example, if you need to care for a sick family member, telecommuting might be ideal. Or perhaps you can work from home for four days a week and come in one day for a weekly check-in or for meetings. Have a variety of alternatives in mind that you can share if your employer is open to considering other options.

Plan your next steps prior to submitting your request. If your employer says no to your leave of absence, will you continue with your job, or will you need to leave permanently? The next steps will vary significantly depending on your reasons for the leave, and if you're filing the request out of want or out of need. Either way, you should have some idea in mind as to how you'll respond if your request is denied.

Plan your finances prior to filing your request: Make sure you can pay your bills without the normal cash flow from your job. You will usually be able to withdraw a request for a leave for financial reasons, but you should avoid the embarrassment if possible.

Explore the implications to your benefits: If you're taking a leave for reasons covered by the FMLA, your employer will be obligated to continue providing health care coverage. However, you will still be responsible for the same employee contribution to the premium that you paid prior to your leave. For other leaves, your employee benefits may not continue while you’re away from work.

The Best Way to Ask for a Leave From Work

Start the leave of absence process with your immediate supervisor: You don't want your direct supervisor to hear the news from HR or upper management first. Additionally, don't mention your desire to take a leave of absence to coworkers until you clear it with your manager.

Word can spread fast in an office, and for the best response, you should talk to your immediate supervisor before broaching the topic with anyone else.

Outline your request in writing so your supervisor can digest your request before a formal discussion: You can submit your request via email prior to your in-person meeting. Be sure to include the reasons for your request, and clarify anything you're willing or able to do to ease the transition, including training your replacement, writing a procedure manual, and fielding questions while you're gone. Review these tips for sending professional email messages and letters before you start your own letter.

Schedule a meeting when your boss is the least stressed or overworked: If you ask for a leave of absence when your boss is feeling overwhelmed, he or she may refuse you right away. On a day when things barely seem to be running with all hands on deck, a leave request won’t find a receptive audience. Be tactful and patient. Yes, it’s important to provide as much lead time as possible, but you should also be strategic when presenting your request.

Give your employer as much time as possible prior to your leave: Advance notice will make it easier for your employer to fill the void left by your departure and make them more likely to accept your request.

Indicate an end date, if possible, so your supervisor has the comfort of knowing when you'll return: Your request will likely go over much better if you can provide some idea as to when you'll return. Even if you can't provide an exact date, it's still better to give your employer a general timeframe for how long you expect to be gone.

Don't provide any legal ultimatums with your initial request: Let your employer feel that they're in control and can allow you to take the leave out of goodwill. If necessary, you can invoke any legal protection later on with the assistance of your HR department, but legality should not come up in your first request.

Letter Samples Requesting a Leave of Absence From a Job

Below is a leave of absence example letter that includes a written request for a leave of absence from work for personal reasons. The letter offers to answer questions while the employee is on leave and provides a date for returning to work.

Leave of Absence Letter Template

You can use this letter sample as a model and download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) for the text version below.

Leave of Absence Request Sample (Text Version)

George Jenkins
1245 James Avenue
Pocatello, ID 83201
(000) 123-1234
gjenkins@email.com

April 6, 2020

Ms. Janice Smith
Supervisor
ABC Company
9876 Industry Avenue
Pocatello, ID 83201

Dear Ms. Smith:

I would like to request a thirty-day leave of absence for personal reasons. If possible, I would like to leave work on May 1 and return on June 1.

If approved, I will be traveling during this time period, but I would be glad to assist with any questions via email or phone.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

George Jenkins (signature on hard copy letter)

George Jenkins

Medical Leave of Absence Request Letter Example

Subject: Medical Leave Request - Jonas Hemmingway

Dear Mr. Smith:

I would like to request a leave of absence for medical reasons. I will be having hernia surgery on September 1 and expect to return to work approximately three weeks later.

I can provide written documentation from the surgeon, if necessary.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jonas Hemmingway

More Letter Examples

Do you need to request a leave for a different reason? Here's how to request a personal leave of absence with a letter example. Also review more examples of letters requesting a leave of absence from work for a variety of reasons. Be sure to tailor your letter to your personal and professional circumstances, as well as your company's leave policy.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Leave Benefits." Accessed April 6, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act." Accessed April 6, 2020.

  3. SHRM. "How to Comply with New State and Local Laws." Accessed April 6, 2020.