We are all used to the concept of short-term PTO. A week off for that beach vacation with your family. A couple of sick days for the cold you just can’t kick. A long weekend to celebrate your birthday. Many companies offer their employees different types of employee leaves and PTO packages—some mandated by law and many beyond that.
But what if you need more than that?
What if you find yourself in a situation where you need extended time off on top of standard paid leave?
It may be a health problem that requires prolonged treatment, loss of a loved one, or additional time off work for childbirth. Whatever the case may be, you may be new to the situation and wondering how on earth you begin to request this of your employer and negotiate the time off you really need. You may even be wondering if you have to quit and abandon your current role until you’re able to search for a new one.
These are all reasonable concerns and questions!
That’s a normal way to feel. The situation can be intimidating, nerve-wracking and even a bit confusing. What’s most important is finding out what your options are, and what works best for you.
Unlike the mandated paid leaves, an LOA is used for long-term absences that exceed your allocated personal time off or PTO. Depending on your employer, generally, LOA is unpaid. That alone can be very scary.
But you know yourself and the life circumstance you’re in. You know what time you need. Don’t be afraid to consider that and try to understand what your options are.
So, how do you ask for a leave of absence?
1. Know your legal rights.
There are many permissible reasons to take extended time off, such as maternity and paternity leave, which comes with protection under the law. But other extended leave of absence, such as an extended leave to write a book or do research or take care of an ailing family member, is subject to approval by your employer.
So as an employee, it is essential to educate yourself on your eligibility on what your company’s policies say about taking an LOA and what the law says about it!
2. Make the request 1:1 and have an honest conversation.
Making your LOA notice personal is vital for you and your employer. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your manager. This helps to avoid tension and provides an open environment for communication.
Doing this will give you the time to outline your reasons and reassure them that you follow the company’s policies regarding LOA. This also allows your employer to work with you to make plans to cover your workload while you are away.
3. Get it in writing.
Like any other legally binding document, it is crucial to have your LOA in writing. Carefully compose a letter to your employer and be as detailed and transparent as possible; it should include the reason for your request and a start and end date.
4. Provide sufficient advance notice.
Perhaps one of the most professional things you can do when requesting an LOA is to give your employer enough time to prepare for your absence.
Do not surprise your request to your employer. Let them know the minute something is happening in your life that might eventually require you to ask for a leave.
An example of this would be if you and your spouse are two months pregnant, it is best to inform your employer, so he or she has seven months to make an action plan and prepare for your maternity or paternity leave.
5. Outline your role, responsibilities and key tasks for the folks that will be keeping the wheels turning while you’re away.
While it is best to take time off during the company’s relaxed offseason and not during the busy season, if the circumstances require you to, you should be able to keep track of your workload that will be affected by your LOA.
It is also best to ask a colleague to cover for you during the times you are away; this will make your employer more at ease that someone is covering your work. If your employer feels the need to hire a temporary replacement for you, you should be able to guide your sub on the workload that they need to cover and leave instructions about your typical duties at work.
Knowing that all critical work would be covered helps your employers to approve your request. You also need to think through in advance any possible objections from your employer, so you can be ready to address them.
6. Work with your manager to develop a plan you both feel comfortable with.
You can always work with your employer for an agreeable LOA plan. Perhaps you can engineer a plan where you temporarily work remotely at home while recovering from an operation or taking care of a sick family member.
Have a variety of alternatives in mind to work with your employer if they are open to considering other work arrangements.
At some point in your career, you may need to have extended time off. That’s ok. It happens more often than you think and is nothing to be ashamed of. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit or lose your job.
Remember that you have options and that as human beings we work to live, not live to work. Sometimes life means taking some time from work, and you may be surprised by how willing your company is to support you in that decision.