What Is Leave of Absence & What Are the Different Types Of Leave?

Learn everything you need to know about the various types of leave, including what they are, who is eligible for them, and how they work.

What Is Leave of Absence & What Are the Different Types Of Leave?
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TL;DR A leave of absence from work is taken for many reasons, and entitlement to leave varies from country to country. Many types of leave are mandated and regulated by local labor laws, while others can be implemented voluntarily in order to create competitive benefits packages that better attract and retain top talent.

As you grow and scale your global team, remaining compliant will be one of the largest challenges you face. Complying with local laws relating to working hours, taxes, and other employment regulations is critical to the level of success your business can expect. One of the most important operational necessities that global teams need to be aware of for compliance reasons is leaves of absence.

Leaves of absence require careful attention for global teams, as regulations and best practices vary by country and region. In general, they are mandated and regulated by the government in many countries, but they’re also a great tool for employee retention and maintaining mental and emotional health.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you a brief overview of the most common types of leave and answer common questions on the topic.

What Is a Leave of Absence and How Does It Work?

A leave of absence is when an employee takes time away from work while still maintaining their employment. Leaves of absence are often taken by employees during culturally significant or exciting life moments, such as marriage, childbirth, or holidays, as well as for more somber reasons, such as sick leave and bereavement leave.

How Does a Leave of Absence Work?

How a leave of absence works will largely depend upon whether the leave is voluntary or mandatory. For instance, in the U.S., certain types of leave are mandatory and legally protected (e.g., jury duty or military duty), whereas others, such as annual leave, are taken on a voluntary basis.

When asking for a leave of absence from work, employees should give the employer as much notice as possible so their duties can be covered. This can be done through an official leave of absence request form, an HR software (HRIS), or simply by email. No matter how it's submitted, a leave of absence request should include:

  • Dates of when the staff member will be out
  • Reason for the request
  • Upcoming deadlines or projects that will require attention

Leave of Absence Laws, Policies, and Regulations

Not every country has statutory provisions for every type of leave, and even those that do, have different policies regarding acceptable length of absence, the requirements for eligibility, whether time off is paid, and more. 

If you’re building a global team, it can be challenging to remain compliant with many different international laws and regulations, so it’s often best to partner with a global employment expert like Omnipresent for support.

Types of Leave

Understanding the different types of leave from work is important for global teams, as it will help you be sensitive to employee needs and remain compliant with local labor regulations. Below, we summarize some of the most common types of leave, including both mandatory and personal leaves of absence, that you might encounter as you build your global team.

Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is a type of leave employees take before and after giving birth or when adopting a child. Maternity leave provisions give employees time to recover, bond with, and care for their new child while holding onto their job. 

Maternity leave regulations vary significantly from country to country; it can be a paid leave of absence, unpaid, or a mix of both. For example, the UK offers 39 weeks of paid maternity leave, but the employee may choose to extend their leave for another 13 weeks without pay. In contrast, the U.S. doesn’t provide any form of paid maternity leave nationwide.

The length of maternity leave will also vary from country to country and by region: Spain offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave; China offers 98 days of paid leave, and Chile offers 30 weeks of paid maternity leave, for example.

As you grow your global team, it’s important not only to understand how long employees are entitled to maternity leave but also how they’ll be compensated for their leave and who will pay for it. Depending on the country, wages may be paid by the employer, the state, or a mix of both. 

To remain compliant as you grow your global team, it’s wise to partner with a global employment provider like Omnipresent, who can help you navigate maternity leave regulations across the world.

Paternity Leave

Paternity leave offers fathers or partners time off work to care for and bond with their new baby or adopted child. Globally, paternity leave is less common than maternity leave, although it varies from country to country just as much as maternity leave.

Eligibility for paternity leave varies as well. In some countries, only biological fathers are eligible for it. However, more countries are beginning to allow parents and partners of any gender to take paternity leave. 

Nevertheless, employees often still need to meet other eligibility requirements, such as working for their company for a certain amount of time or contributing to certain state funds.

What’s more, the duration and payment of paternity leave can be significantly different from country to country. Some countries offer just two weeks of unpaid paternity leave, while others have much more generous provisions. For example, Japan offers 12 months of paternity leave with a partial state stipend, and Spain’s paternity leave is identical to its maternity leave at 16 weeks with pay.

Global paternity leave regulations are complex and often subject to change, so it's important to work with experts like Omnipresent if you're unsure of local laws.

Even where paternity leave isn't mandated by the state, providing quality paternity leave benefits can be a good way to attract and retain top talent.

Parental Leave

Parental leave allows employees (regardless of their gender or birthing status) to spend time with and care for their children. In some countries, it’s an alternative to maternity and paternity leave, while in others, it’s a supplementary benefit that follows on from initial leave periods.

Depending on local regulations, parental leave may last anywhere between a few weeks and several months. Likewise, in some places, parental leave is a paid benefit, while in others, it’s not. 

Nevertheless, it's one of the most significant benefits for new parents because it allows them to take extended time off to handle family matters and guarantees that their job will be waiting for them when they get back. 

Eligibility for parental leave also varies from country to country, although some of the most common factors that play into it are the employee's duration of service, contributions to certain funds (e.g., social security), and the size of the company.

Annual Leave

Annual leave is the yearly allowance of paid vacation days that are available to all employees. While annual leave policies vary greatly by country, jurisdiction, and even company, there are some commonalities in all annual leave policies. For instance, every country has a minimum amount of days that must be provided, different policies regarding notice and requesting leave, and how much employees are paid while they’re out. 

Providing a generous amount of annual leave can also be an effective way to enhance your benefits packages in order to attract and retain talent. For instance, companies located in countries with low minimum annual leave allotments are able to find a competitive edge by offering more time off than those who offer the bare minimum.

Sick Leave

Sick leave enables team members to take time off if they're feeling unwell. In most parts of the world, sick leave is a mandatory benefit provided to every employee. Local regulations determine if it should be paid or unpaid.

Also known as "sickness absence," "medical leave," or "sick days," sick leave policies vary significantly between countries, regions, and even companies. This means that eligibility can be contingent on many factors, including but not limited to:

  • Employee type (e.g., manual laborer vs. office worker)
  • Reason for sick leave
  • Waiting periods (i.e., you must be sick for a set amount of days before collecting sick leave pay)
  • Job tenure
  • Duration of sickness

Bereavement Leave

Bereavement leave is granted to employees following the death of a family member or loved one. It allows them to take time to grieve, attend a funeral or memorial service, and sort out miscellaneous administrative tasks. 

Here are a few examples of familial relationships that are likely to qualify for bereavement leave:

  • Spouse or partner
  • Parent or guardian
  • Sibling
  • Child or descendant

While local employment laws dictate whether or not bereavement leave is a paid leave of absence, many companies do provide paid leave, at least for a few days, in order to create more appealing and compassionate benefits packages.

Public Holidays, Bank Holidays, and Religious Holidays

In most countries, certain days throughout the year are always given as time off. These include public holidays, bank holidays, and religious holidays. However, which days are valid and when they occur is different for every region because most public holidays mark a significant national occasion (e.g., an independence day). 

For instance, Sri Lanka has 25 national holidays, while Mexico only has seven. Whether or not these days are paid is up to the local jurisdiction, employment contract, or other company policies.

Nevertheless, it’s of utmost importance that you effectively communicate your company's policy on public and religious holidays to all employees. 

Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical leave is a type of extended time off that's not usually offered as a statutory benefit but rather at the discretion of the employer. 

The length of a sabbatical fluctuates based on the situation but can last anywhere between one month and one year. This is because sabbaticals are most commonly taken in order to pursue research, continuing education, or other types of skill development.

While sabbaticals are generally thought to be applicable only to academia, private companies are quickly realizing the benefits of offering them to employees. Sabbatical leaves can help reduce employee burnout, allow employees to pursue continuing education, and reassess how to reach career goals. Whether such leave is paid or unpaid is also completely up to the employer.

Unpaid Leave

During unpaid leave, employees still retain their positions and typically receive their benefits, although they are not paid. Unpaid leave often goes hand in hand with other types of leave, such as parental leave, sabbatical leave, and sick leave.

Unpaid leave is common in the U.S., where there are no federal requirements for paid sick leave or paid parental leave. Instead, employees in the U.S. are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act for various medical and familial reasons.

Unpaid leave may also include mandatory unpaid leave, which often relates to furlough. When an employee is on furlough, their company limits the amount of time they work and, therefore, the hours they’re paid.

Eligibility and entitlement to unpaid leave depend on a number of factors, including the country’s unpaid leave regulations and sometimes the company’s own discretion.

Compensatory Leave

Compensatory leave (aka comp off, comp time, or compensatory off) works as an alternative to overtime pay. Essentially, when an eligible employee works under certain circumstances — such as overtime, on a weekend, or during a holiday — that employee is allowed to forgo overtime pay and instead take paid compensatory leave. 

In most cases, time accrued for comp off is hour by hour; so if an employee works one hour of overtime, they are entitled to take one hour of paid leave at a future date. However, there are some types of employees, such as in the case of public agency workers in the U.S., that earn 90 minutes of compensatory leave for every hour of overtime work.

Eligibility for comp off can fluctuate drastically because most private companies choose to offer overtime pay instead. Plus, the majority of salaried employees are not eligible for comp off in the first place.

Leave of Absence FAQs

Below we've put together some of the most common frequently asked questions about leave of absence:

How Long Is a Leave of Absence?

The duration of a leave of absence depends on the country's regulations as well as what the company offers. 

For example, in the U.S., employees protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can take up to 12 weeks off within a 12-month period if they have worked at least 1,250 hours. Meanwhile, employment laws in the UK grant every employee at least 5.6 weeks of annual paid leave.

Fluctuations and differences in policy can become quite nuanced, so if you’re planning on building a global team, it can be highly useful to partner with a global employment provider like Omnipresent, who can take care of compliance for you.

Who Can Qualify for a Leave of Absence?

In most countries, employers are required to provide a minimum number of paid or unpaid days off to every employee. However, some types of leave do require some qualifications in order to be eligible. For instance, taking extensive parental leave may be contingent on factors such as how long the employee has worked at the company, their contributions to national insurance, and company policies.

Meanwhile, other leaves, like sabbaticals, are dictated entirely by companies, so there typically aren't many regulations to consider.

Leave of Absence Conclusion

Managing a global team can be tricky due to differences in local employment laws. It's important to be aware of each jurisdiction's leave of absence policies so you can remain compliant and craft attractive benefits packages that attract the best talent. By offering more than the bare minimum that's required by law, you'll be well on your way to securing the staff you need in order to succeed, no matter where they are in the world.

Fortunately, you don’t need to navigate international labor laws alone. Omnipresent’s global employment solutions enable you to hire top talent from across the globe compliantly and hassle-free. We handle employment administration and compliance, such as payroll, onboarding, and benefits, so you can focus on other priorities.

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Charlotte Darrell

Meet Charlotte Darrell, one of our talented contributors. Check out Charlotte's articles to learn more about global employment and remote work.

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