Leave of Absence Law & Legal Definition


A leave of absence is an officially excused period of time off duty from work or duty. Definitions of what constitutes a leave of absence vary by employer, such as how many days off constitute a leave of absence. Employers also determine whether or not a leave of absence will be compensated for and what reasons justify such a leave period.

Federal laws govern an employee's right to retain employment after a leave of absence for certain reasons. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires covered employers to grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • for the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee;
  • for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care;
  • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

An employer covered by FMLA is any person engaged in commerce or in any industry or activity affecting commerce, who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Employers covered by FMLA also include any person acting, directly or indirectly, in the interest of a covered employer to any of the employees of the employer, any successor in interest of a covered employer, and any public agency. Public agencies are covered employers without regard to the number of employees employed. Public as well as private elementary and secondary schools are also covered employers.