What Are Excused Absences From Work?

6 Types of Excused Absences From Work

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Need time off, and worried about how it will reflect on you professionally? The first thing to determine is whether your time away from work will be considered an excused absence.

An excused absence from work is typically one that an employee schedules in advance with permission from his or her employer. For example, jury duty, surgery, appointments, funerals, military service, or vacation are considered excused absences because they cannot be scheduled during work hours.

Bottom line: you have to get permission from your employer before you take time off. That means first understanding what counts as an excused absence and learning about your company’s specific policies before scheduling your time away.

Types of Excused Absences

Sick time and other paid time off, as well as unforeseen circumstances like family illness or a death in the family, count as excused absences.

However, in order for your time off to count as excused, it's important to notify your supervisor before an absence, so he or she can reorganize the workload for the day. Even if you have sick time or paid time off, scheduling an absence in an as timely manner as possible is required by most employers.

1. 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 gifted from other coworkers in the case of an employee who has used up all of his or her 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.

2. Sick Leave

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

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

3. Death in the Family 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 taken to attend a funeral to count against these days.

4. 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.

Pay for Jury Duty
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.

Businesses are strongly encouraged to pay an employee his or her regular wage for time spent on jury duty. However, each state has different requirements for employers and reimburses jurors (or doesn't) according to state law for time, travel, and child care.

Check with your employer and/or your State Department of Labor for details about jury duty leave benefits.

Exemptions From Jury Duty

Despite your dedication to the public good, you might want to avoid jury duty due to financial, personal, or job-related circumstances. Prospective members of a jury will have an opportunity to plead their case for dismissal in front of a presiding judge. 

Financial hardship, family responsibilities (especially for single parents or those caring for the elderly), transportation problems, illness or disability (with doctor’s note) or a critical work function might be acceptable reasons depending on the judge and jurisdiction.

Candidates for jury duty might also be excluded by one of the attorneys is they are deemed biased or unable to comprehend the proceedings. If the timing of your service is troublesome, you may be able to postpone your participation by following the directions on your jury notice.

5. Time Off to Vote

Many states have laws which stipulate that employers must allow employees time to vote before, after, or during their work hours. Provisions in these laws vary significantly by state. Employers are typically required to offer employees from one to four hours of 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 to vote. Many states give employers the right to specify the time allotted for employees to vote. For example, before their work hours, after work hours, 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 to qualify for time off. 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. Check with your employer and/or your State Department of Labor for details of the time off you may be entitled to.

6. 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. Many states are working on new laws that would allow parents more time to get involved in school activities.

As family dynamics change, fewer families have a "stay-at-home" parent. Instead, in the majority of cases, both mom and dad are in the workplace. This makes it especially challenging for parents to attend parent-teacher meetings, make an appearance at school open houses, accompany their kids on field trips, or otherwise be involved in their children's education.

State Laws Providing Time Off for Parents

Some states have recognized this and have taken action accordingly. For several states, this support has taken the form of new laws. 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. At least 30 states currently have laws mandating some sort of support for families who wish to take part in school activities.

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.

How Much Time Off

Although there are laws to help parents get time off, the stipulations vary greatly from state to state. The number of hours of leave ranges from four to 40 per year, with a clustering around 16 to 24 hours of time off.

A Note About Unexcused Absences

If you do not request (and get) 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 interests to get permission ahead of time, before being absent.

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.