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A leave of absence (LOA) is a period of time that one must be away from his/her primary job, while maintaining the status of employee. This contrasts with normal periods away from the workplace, such as vacations, holidays, hiatuses, sabbaticals, and "working from home" programs, in that they are considered exceptional circumstances, rather than benefits. Generally such an arrangement has a predefined termination at a particular date or after a certain event has occurred.
Generally, paid leaves of absence are given at the request of the employer, or per some statutory or contractual requirement. Some examples of generally paid LOA include employee injury on the job, bereavement, jury duty, or if the employer is performing repairs or other activities in the building where the employee normally works which prevents them from performing their duties.
Unpaid LOAs are generally at the request of the employee or as a result of suspected misconduct on the part of the employee. A leave of absence may be obtained for a variety of employee-requested reasons, including Active duty call-up for reserve military personnel, or to attend to the health needs of the employee or of a family member of the employee..
In many jurisdictions, it is up to the employer's discretion as to whether or not an employee's request for a leave of absence is approved. In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 defines certain circumstances under which approval of a leave of absence is compulsory. Additionally, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) dictates certain circumstances under which a LOA must be granted.
During periods of time where the employer's market is sluggish, some employers offer certain classes of employees an opportunity to take an unpaid leave of absence as extra vacation time, in an effort to temporarily reduce operating expenses without the complications of performing a Layoff, and potentially losing critical employees permanently. Such a period is referred to as a leave of absence in lieu of layoff.
In academia, "unpaid leave of absence" has no negative connotation. It is used to give the opportunity to a professor or staff member to assume a non-conflicting position (e.g., political position) without losing his/her original affiliation.
Generally, continuation of certain benefits, such as medical insurance, is maintained. Other benefits such as Life Insurance normally require the employee to pay the premium in order to be continued during the LOA.
For those benefits that are based on an employee's time in his/ her job, the period of the absence may be included in the tallies of consecutive service for certain benefits. If the time is not included, it is simply omitted from the tally, but not considered a break in service.