February 13, 2024
What is Discretionary Time Off? (DTO)
We’re in an age where new workplace terms are being thrown at us from all angles. One you might have heard ...
In this article we’ll share any and all types of leave you might want to offer in your business.
Time off from work is one of the most important employee benefits there is. Many job seekers will choose a job with a more attractive leave policy over one with higher pay that’s less generous with time off.
Splitting your leave policy up into different types of leave helps to both illustrate to employees what they’re allowed to take time off for, and keep things organized for your HR department. To understand which types of leave your policy should cover, keep reading for all you need to know.
Here are some of the most common types of leave, which you’re likely to find in the majority of employee leave policies.
The most common type of paid time off (PTO) is vacation time, also known as annual leave or holiday time.
Vacation is time off for employees to spend how they wish, whether that is spending time with their family, exploring the world, or playing video games for 18 hours a day.
Employees still get paid what they’d normally get paid for their time off. Typically they’ll either get a lump sum PTO quota they can use from at the start of each year (e.g. 12 days per year), or they’ll slowly earn (accrue) vacation time over time (e.g. 1 vacation day for every month worked).
The other type of leave you’ll find in almost every business is sick leave.
Generally when we talk about this, we’re talking about paid sick leave. This means that if an employee is unwell or injured and unable to come into work, they’ll get paid their normal salary/wages for that day.
Paid sick leave is vital to ensure that employees can take time off to rest and recover when they fall ill, and not have to worry about losing out on pay. Sick leave may be unlimited or limited to a yearly quota (it may also be locked until a certain service time is completed, such as 3 months of working).
If you’re a US business covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this is a non-negotiable leave type.
Per the FMLA, businesses of a certain size need to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for certain situations, such as:
Though this leave is not required to be paid, it is job-protected leave, which means that the employee must be able to return to their job and regular rate of pay when they return from leave.
Most companies today provide maternity leave to female employees. This could be partially paid or fully paid maternity leave – for example, the company might allow new mothers to take up to 12 months off for the birth of their child, but only 6 months is paid at their normal rate. Other companies may simply pay the entire amount.
Usually maternity leave will start a little before birth, on a doctor’s advice as to how far into term the prospective mother is safe to continue working.
It’s common today to provide both maternity and paternity leave. Many organizations recognize the importance of allowing a new father to spend time with their new child.
The length and conditions of paternity leave can vary. Paternity and maternity is often bundled together as parental leave, with companies not differentiating between parental leave allowance for mothers and fathers. Spotify is a great example, providing six months’ paid parental leave for all employees, and encouraging new parents to take all six months.
Personal days are similar to sick days, in that they allow employees to take a day off without missing pay for personal reasons or unforeseen circumstances or events that come up. Unlike sick days, personal days can cover any reason, such as family emergencies, appointments, or when you just need a day off to de-stress.
With a lot of organizations now understanding the importance of their employees’ mental health, companies may provide mental health days alongside other types of leave.
A mental health day is like a sick day, but specifically for mental health reasons such as stress, anxiety or depression.
Some businesses may instead categorize mental health days under personal days, sick days, or “duvet days“, which allow employees to make a last minute decision to stay in bed and not come to work when they’re not up to it.
Bereavement leave, sometimes called compassionate leave, is paid leave provided when an employee’s loved one (usually an immediate family member) passes away.
Unless local laws cover bereavement leave, it’s generally up to the employer’s discretion how they navigate this, such as what kind of bereavements are eligible (e.g. the relationship to the employee), and how much time off is provided as part of bereavement leave (this is usually around 1-3 days).
Another thing for businesses to consider is whether to provide employees with paid leave for public and federal holidays (aka bank holidays in the UK).
In some areas of the world (New Zealand is one example), employees are legally required to get a paid day off should a public holiday fall on their normal working day. In other areas (such as the US), paid holidays are not required by law, so businesses need to decide whether to pay employees for this day or not.
Time off in lieu, or compensatory leave, is given as compensation for working overtime or working on one’s day off.
For example, if an employee needs to come in on a Saturday, they may be provided with a lieu day, which is a paid day off they can take at a later date.
It can also cover when employee has to work on a public holiday. They’re given a lieu day to make up for the holiday they missed out on.
Not all businesses will allow this, but most will let employees take unpaid leave. This would work the same as PTO/annual leave, though as the name suggests, the employee is not paid for the time off.
Unpaid leave might be taken when an employee has used all of their paid time off or paid sick leave, or if they want to save their paid time off for a planned vacation later in the year.
Now let’s move on to a few less common types of leave. A lot of these cover more niche scenarios, and you may or may not feel it’s necessary to include them in your organization’s leave policy.
Floating holidays are like public holidays, but which the employee can take off at a time of their choosing.
One common use case for floating holidays is in remote teams, when employees in different areas of the world have different local holidays. To keep things fair, each employee gets the same number of paid holidays (called floating holidays), which they’re free to take any time they like, and covers regional holidays while keeping it fair and equal for everyone.
Religious leave is paid leave that allows employees to take time off for religious holidays or to take part in observances or practices as part of their religion.
This is more common now in diverse workplaces, assuming that each employee carries different beliefs, and respecting their right to hold and express those beliefs.
Military leave provides time off from work for employees who are required to report to active military duty.
It could be paid or unpaid leave, though most often is unpaid (but job-protected, like FMLA). There are certain laws that cover this in the US, while citizens of some other countries are required to report to military service at some point, and companies may provide military leave to cover this.
It’s a legal requirement to let employees take time off work when they need to participate in jury duty. However it’s up to the employer whether they make this leave paid or not. Jurors are not paid a lot, so the business may choose to compensate part or all of the employee’s regular pay while they’re serving on the jury.
Some companies may provide leave from work to vote in national or regional elections, or to serve as election officials (e.g. helping at polling locations). In some states, it’s a legal requirement to let employees take off work to vote, though it’s not required to be paid.
A sabbatical is an extended leave of absence, generally longer than one month, sometimes as long as a year. In most cases, sabbatical leave is provided after an employee contributes a certain length of service time to the company, and is most common in academic professions.
The specifics of sabbatical leave vary greatly from case to case. A sabbatical may be paid or unpaid, and in either case, protects the employee’s job for when they return from their time away.
Protest leave lets employees take time off work to attend protests or rallies, which some companies feel is an employee’s democratic right, and thus employees should not be prevented from doing so because they can’t get time off.
Similar to protest leave, volunteer time off gives employees the option to take time off to volunteer for charitable causes. This is another that can be paid or unpaid, but is generally not.
In certain areas of the world where storms, heavy snow or other adverse weather conditions are common, employees may be allowed to take time off from work and stay home if it’s unsafe to commute, or if the weather literally prevents them from making it in to the office.
Since COVID-19, self-isolation leave or quarantine leave has become a thing in many workplaces, giving employees permission to stay home and isolate themselves if they’re showing symptoms of a contagious disease.
Employees may be allowed time off from work (paid or unpaid) to study or take training courses to learn new skills.
If the training is related to the employee’s job (such as a first aid course or industry certification), this is generally expected to be paid. Elective training courses may be treated differently.
Gardening leave is when an employee is kept on the payroll, but asked to stay home and not work.
This may be when an employee gives their notice to leave the job, or when they’ve finished working (either quit or terminated), and they’re still being paid for a certain length of time. In some cases, it could be provided when an employee is in between projects, but kept on the company payroll.
There can be a number of reasons why an employer doesn’t want the employee to continue working after giving notice. It could be due to a falling out between employee and employer, or just due to the nature of some industries, the company may not want outgoing employees handling sensitive information.
We’ve discussed many types of leave in this post, but for some, differentiating between each leave type may feel like overkill.
Some can be lumped together under a different name (e.g. “service leave” to cover things like military service, jury duty and volunteering, or just “miscellaneous leave” to cover a variety of situations). But the key is to make sure paid vacation days are distinct from leave for certain other reasons, such as bereavement, sickness or mental health.
Do what you feel is best for your business. If you feel it’s more organized to separate different types of leave, go ahead and do it.
The best way to keep track of different types of leave? Flamingo.
Flamingo is a leave tracker for Slack teams, which lets you set up and track any number of custom leave types.
It makes your life easier, even if you only want to track paid time off and sick leave. But if you add in other types of leave as mentioned above, you need a tool like Flamingo to make sense of everything.
Flamingo will let employees request a specific type of leave, and file away their absence under the correct leave type, making it easy for HR, department managers, payroll, and anyone else who needs to know.
Flamingo makes managing your team’s paid time off a breeze.