What Are Excused Absences?

Definition & Examples of Excused Absences

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With excused absences, an employer has granted an employee permission to be away from work during their normal working hours. Excused absences may include time off such as a vacation.

Learn what counts as an excused absence and why it's important to schedule them in advance.

What Are Excused Absences?

An excused absence is time off from work with the permission of a manager or supervisor. Excused absences are usually requested ahead of time. In the case of illness or injury, an unexpected absence may be excused after the fact.

In order for time off to count as excused, it's important to notify your supervisor before an absence. That helps them be able to reorganize the workload for the day. Even if you have sick time or paid time off available, scheduling an absence in an as timely manner as possible is required by most employers and may be specified in your employee handbook.

How Do Excused Absences Work?

In most instances, you'll let your manager know that you'd like time off, how much, and when. Let them know the reason you need to be absent.

In some instances outside your control, such as a sudden illness or accident, you may not be able to give notice ahead of time. Still, contact your employer as soon as possible to arrange for the time off, at least before your shift is scheduled to begin. If you cannot make the call, have someone else do so.

If you do not request (and receive) permission from your supervisor to be absent from work, your employer may consider your time off an unexcused absence. Employees who violate company policy regarding notification of missing work may be warned and/or terminated from the company. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to get permission ahead of time before being absent.

For example, if you are planning to take time off of work to attend an out-of-state wedding, follow your employer's policy for requesting time off. Request the day well in advance, so your supervisor has time to rearrange work schedules if necessary. Get the request and approval in writing so you have documentation that you have followed procedure. If your employee handbook contains any other instructions for obtaining excused time off, be sure to follow them. You may be required to use personal leave for this absence, so be sure to track it appropriately.

Types of Excused Absences

Excused absences may include the following:

  • Personal leave
  • Sick leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Jury duty
  • Time off to vote
  • Time off for school activities

Personal Leave

Personal leave is considered an excusable absence from work for nearly any reason. The reason could include planned events such as birthdays, weddings, family business, vacation, or more unexpected situations such as accident, sickness, or an emergency.

While some companies include personal leave in their employee benefits packages, personal leave can also be unpaid, or even gifted from other coworkers in the case of an employee who has used up all of their own paid time off.

Employers are not required by federal law to offer paid personal leave. However, in order to stay competitive, many companies offer a benefits package that includes some combination of paid holidays, sick days, and personal days to their employees. Typically, these days can be used whenever is most convenient for the employee, provided that they follow procedures for requesting time off.

Sick or Medical Leave

An absence may be due to illness or injury. In order for the absence to be excused, your employer may require a doctor's note as proof that you saw a medical practitioner and that you are cleared to return to work.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covered employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the employee to take medical leave because of illness, for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an ill family member.

Other than the FMLA requirements, employers are not legally required by federal law to provide sick leave to employees, though state laws vary. In some locations, employees are provided with paid sick time. In addition, company policy may provide for paid sick time.

Bereavement Leave

Employers are not required by law to offer time off from work or paid leave to an employee who has a death in their family or who is attending a funeral. Many employers who offer paid personal days would consider time off taken to attend a funeral to count against those days.

Jury Duty

Federal law requires employers to allow employees to serve jury duty with no repercussions in the workplace. This means that your employer is legally required to give you time off to serve on a jury.

Employers are not required to pay employees for time not worked. So, even though employees are entitled to leave for jury duty, they may not be compensated other than what the state reimburses.

Time Off to Vote

Many states have laws that stipulate that employers must allow employees time to vote. Provisions in these laws vary significantly by state, but employers are typically required to offer employees time before, during, or after their scheduled workday in which to visit the polls.

The most common provision offered by states is up to two hours of time off. Many states give employers the right to specify the time allotted for employees to vote—for example, before their shift, after their shift, or during work hours.

In many cases, employers don't actually need to offer time off as long as there is sufficient time between when polls open and when workers are required to begin their shift or between when their shift ends and when the polls close.

Many states require employees to apply for leave in advance, and most states that provide the option require employers to pay employees if they must miss work time to vote.

States are often required to notify workers about the opportunity to take time off to vote to ensure that employees are aware of their rights. Many states impose criminal or civil penalties if employers fail to comply with these laws.

Time Off for School Activities

Most parents make it a priority to be involved in their children's school activities, but due to work commitments, not all parents are able to take an active role in their kids' education. In many cases, both parents are in the workplace. This makes it especially challenging for them to attend parent-teacher meetings, make an appearance at school open houses, accompany their kids on field trips, or otherwise be involved.

Some states have recognized this and have taken action accordingly. For instance, in California, state law requires private employers with 25 or more employees to let workers use paid time off for scheduled absences related to some school-related activities. States that mandate private businesses provide unpaid leave for school-related activities include:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

In other states, the law entitles only public-sector employees to leave for school activities. And some states have laws that encourage but do not require employers to allow employees to take time off for their kids' activities.

Key Takeaways

  • Excused absences are periods of time away from work that have been approved by the employer.
  • For an absence to be excused, it generally needs to be scheduled ahead of time.
  • Some absences may require proof such as a doctor's note in order to be excused.

Article Sources

  1. Legal Information Institute. "28 U.S. Code § 1875. Protection of Jurors’ Employment." Accessed July 18, 2020.

  2. California Labor Code. "Article 1, Section 230.8." Accessed July 18, 2020.

  3. SHRM.org. "State Laws: School Activities Leave." Accessed July 18, 2020.