Leave of absence laws (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss Leave of absence laws, what a leave of absence is, reasons for taking leave of absence or paid/unpaid time off.

Leave of absence laws

Leave of absence laws need to be taken seriously and carefully.

We understand how business owners find it difficult to understand when their employers are off, since it is difficult for them to make a profit, of course it is not about not being human and understanding people have commitments but looking through the business side of the situation.

This is especially true since employee’s absenteeism can cost an employer a lot of money. But do employers also have the possibility to minimize these effects while giving their employees the time off they require?

Well, it can be even more expensive going to court if not taking into consideration the leave of absence laws.

What is leave of absence?

First of all, let’s consider how the concept of employment works.

This is an agreement between an employee and an employer to work at the times and places agreed in their contract of employment.

However, it isn’t always about working and working, non-stop.

Employees are also entitled to some time off by law, as employmentlaws.co.uk indicates “The Working Time Regulations and other industry specific regulation, like those that regulate driver’s hours, control the number of hours that an employee can work before having to have a break and also time off work. In addition every worker now has to have at least 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave.”

Let’s see the reasons an employee has the right to take leave from work.

Reasons for taking leave from work

According to employmentlaws.co.uk, besides having time for holidays, there are also other reasons that include (paid or unpaid):

  • maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, and adoption leave;
  • time off for family and dependents;
  • time off for antenatal care in pregnancy;
  • time off to deal with duties as a trade union official;
  • time off to deal with duties as a trade union learning representative;
  • time off to deal with duties as a member or candidate for membership of a European works council;
  • time off to take part in trade union activities;
  • time off for 16/17 year olds to study for certain educational qualifications;
  • time off during notice of redundancy to seek new work;
  • time off to perform duties as a pension fund trustee;
  • time off to perform duties as a health and safety representative;
  • time off to perform duties as an employee representative;
  • time off to accompany another worker to a disciplinary or grievance hearing where the right to be accompanies applies;
  • time off to perform certain public duties – including service as a Justice of the Peace or a member of a local authority or statutory tribunal;
  • time off while suspended.

Sickness absence or sick leave

Being sick from time to time is only human, some people get sick more frequently than others but we understand how it feels to be sick and skip work or being sick and still going to work.

However, if an employee claims they are sick and take some time off ons cik leave and they are not sick then they will be “guilty of misconduct and subject to discipline and even face a dismissal.”

Employers usually stipulate the terms for sick leave in their contract and the procedures that specify how an employee must report being sick.

In addition, the contract should include whether an employee should get paid when off sick but if it doesn’t provide any period of paid sickness then the only obligation is to pay Statutory Sick Pay.

Compassionate leave of absence

We all may have at least had an event where we needed to take care of a relative that may be living with us and is suddenly ill.

In this case you could have the right for time off to care for dependants but this is not applicable to non-dependant members of the family or for non-emergencies.

“An employer who dismissed someone simply because they took time off to care for a relative taken ill or because of the death of a relative would be acting unfairly but equally there is no right to take leave on bereavement unless it falls within the right to take time off to care for dependents. There is no right to be paid for such leave either (employmentlaws.co.uk).”

Unpaid leave 

As we have discussed, law indicates holidays need to be paid but what happens when you need to ask for a leave of absence which ends up as unpaid leave?

Or how can you know?

Legally, your employer is obliged to give you time off for holidays known as statutory holiday entitlement, however, unpaid leave in the UK is the type of leave where individuals are not entitled to be paid or they get paid if their employer indicates it in their employment contract.

Laws around unpaid leave are scarce and there is also no maximum or minimum amount of paid leave an employee must have but you can always refer to the Employment Rights Act 1996 for more information on the existing legislation.

Time off work

The law gives their employers the right to take time off work under certain circumstances, but you might not be paid (or you may) for this time as we have discussed, however, let’s mention some of those scenarios:

  • Time off for holidays: as an employee in the UK you are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year.
  • Time off for public duties: if you are an employee who needs to take time off because you are involved in some type of public duties (i.e. a magistrate, local councilor, or school governor). You won’t be paid for your time off unless your contract specifies otherwise.
  • Time off for jury service: your employer is not obliged to give you time off for jury service, but they could be subjected to a fine for contempt of court if they refuse to. The best option is to negotiate with your employer.
  • Time off for studying or training: if you are an employee over 18 years, you have the right to ask for unpaid time off for training or study. You will need to show your employer that your qualification is intended to improve your ability to do your job. However, before you ask them, make sure you work somewhere that has more than 250 employees and that you have worked there for more than 26 weeks.
  • Time off to have a baby: if you are expecting a baby or you are adopting, you have extra rights at work. You may be entitled to maternity/paternity leave pay, shared parental leave pay, adoption leave pay, unpaid time off to look after your child, and time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Time off for emergencies: if you have unexpected problems or emergencies related to you or close family members you may be entitled to dependant leave. There is no fixed amount of time you can take off as it depends on your situation, for instance, if someone gets ill or injured, someone has died, taking care of a relative who is in the hospital or if you are dealing with an unexpected problem at your child’s school.
  • Time off to visit the doctor/dentist: your employer is not legally obliged to give you time off to visit your doctor or dentist but they could be flexible and allow you to. If your employment contract doesn’t specifically include having time off they can insist you have them outside working hours. 

Why is this blog about Leave of absence laws important?

We are humans, and it is normal to have certain situations in our lives which require us to take some time off, this is why it is important to understand the leave of absence laws.

As an employee, we need to be aware of our rights and the paid/unpaid time we might be entitled to. 

However, if you are not sure about something you can always refer to the employment laws, talk to your employer or research within your employment contract. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Leave of absence laws

What does it mean when someone takes a leave of absence?

When someone takes a leave of absence, it means they are allowed to take some time off work.

An employee requests their employer to take some time off for many reasons, such as family problems, personal problems, etc.

How do I claim leave of absence?

If you need to claim leave of absence, it is recommended to write a letter to your employer requesting the leave of absence, giving enough advance notice, mentioning the specific dates and if possible, work with your boss to develop a plan to take care of your tasks while you are off and keep track of any relevant paperwork.

Can you take a leave of absence from work for depression?

You could take a leave of absence from work for depression, by going to your GP and being honest about your symptoms and how you are feeling.

If your GP gives you a Fit Note, it will indicate the dates you can be absent from your work, so you can take time to rest and get better.

Can I get fired for taking a leave of absence?

It is unlikely your employer will fire you for taking a leave of absence, especially if it is a valid one.

They need to follow a procedure before considering your dismissal and fire you on fair grounds.

What do I tell my doctor to get stress leave?

If you need to tell your doctor you need to get  stress leave, here are some key points to consider:

Be honest and open about your symptoms.

Be upfront on how you are feeling and try not to leave out any details.

Listen to what your doctor says and advises.

If your doctor considers, he/she will suggest follow up appointments.

Try to identify your triggers and explain your situation to them.


Employmentlaws.co.uk: “Employment law in the UK”

Citizensadvice.org.uk: “Time off work – overview”

Beattie, A. (2019, Aug.) Are Employees Entitled to Unpaid Leave? Retrieved from croner.co.uk.