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National
Personal leave is sometimes used as a catch-all term used to describe any form of employee leave, but it is also commonly used to describe short-term absences that don’t otherwise fall under defined sick, medical, and vacation leave policies.
Sometimes referred to as “small necessities leave,” examples of these types of personal leaves may include anything from school appointments and bereavement leave to time to attend appointments and errands not otherwise covered by sick or family leave laws.
While no federal law requires employers to provide paid or unpaid personal days, some of these categories of leave may be required by various state laws. Additionally, even when not required to do so, many employers provide some form of flexible “personal leave” that can be used for the various purposes described in this topic.
Leave resources. With this in mind, before we discuss personal leave in general, let’s briefly list some of the most common types of leave and provide references to the appropriate topical resources for those categories.
Family and Medical Leave. This includes family, medical, and military caregiver leave as required under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as many comparable companion state laws.
Please see the state Leaves of Absence section.
Please see the state Military Service section.
Sick Leave. Whether paid or unpaid, this leave is typically used for shorter periods of illness or preventive care for the employee or covered family members. A growing number of state and local laws are requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for a variety of reasons, some of which may also extend to domestic violence prevention and counseling.
Please see the state Sick Leave section.
Maternity and Paternity Leave. While “maternity leave” is still often used broadly to discuss leave associated with pregnancy, these leaves (and the laws governing them) often expand to include adoption, foster children, and, of course, time for fathers to bond with new children.
In many cases, leave for medical needs related to pregnancy will be covered under federal or state medical leave laws, but such leave may also be considered an accommodation under state antidiscrimination laws.
Military Leave. In addition to leave needed to provide medical care to injured servicemembers, as provided by federal and state family and medical leave laws, employers may also be required to provide employees with protected periods of leave to participate in military service and training, as well as for qualifying exigencies related to military service.
Vacations and Paid Time Off (PTO). While no federal or state law requires it, most employers provide some form of vacation time to employees. This may also be provided in a combined “paid time off” policy that covers a variety of leave needs. Employers that promise vacation time may create obligations to pay out that accrued leave when the employee leaves the company.
Please see the state Vacations section.
Bereavement Leave. A handful of states also require employers to provide a period of leave for a death in the employee’s immediate family. Yet, even in states that don’t require such leave, most employers provide employees with a reasonable period of time to grieve and attend to funeral arrangements during these difficult times.
Please see the state Leaves of Absence section.
Jury and Witness Service Leave. Leave for jury duty and court appearances is another form of leave that most employers provide, regardless of state law requirements (of which there are several). The prevailing attitude is that an employee who is summoned to serve on a jury or testify in court has a civic obligation to do so, and that the company has a responsibility to support that duty.
Please see the state Jury Duty/Court Appearance section.
Voting Leave. Another civic duty that most employers provide leave for employees to perform is that of voting. Employers that do not already have such policies must consult with state laws, as employees may be entitled to a reasonable period of time to cast votes in elections if the employee’s work schedule does not otherwise allow him or her to do so.
Information on state laws requiring time off to vote is available in the State Law Chart Builder.
In addition to the numerous forms of leave detailed above, employers may also provide ”personal leave” for short-term absences for other life needs.
Further examples may include time to attend school functions such as parent-teacher conferences, time to attend personal educational pursuits, and even time to run errands or attend nonmedical appointments.
This leave allows employees the flexibility needed to manage family and life needs and may not only improve morale, but also productivity, since employees with available time spend less time searching for alternative ways and individuals to manage these tasks.
In addition to the leaves required above, various small necessities leave requirements, particularly those related to school attendance, may also be required by state law.
For additional details, a concise multistate comparison of state “small necessities” leave laws is also available in the State Law Chart Builder.
Personal leave and the FLSA. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (29 CFR 541.118) permits employers to deduct from salary for full days taken for personal reasons other than sick or disability leave without loss of the employee’s exempt status.
Thus, if an employee is absent for a day or longer to handle personal affairs, his or her salaried status will not be affected if deductions are made from his or her salary for such absences.
If an employee is absent for less than a day, he or she must be paid for the full day. It is important to note that employers may deduct from an employee's allotted personal time under the company's leave plan in increments of less than a day. The employer simply may not deduct an employee's pay for less than a day's absence.
Please see the national Exempt Employees section.
Best practices. Since many exempt workers work hours beyond the scheduled workday, but without entitlement to overtime compensation, one of the perks and trade-offs often associated with exempt status may be the ability to take certain periods of leave without loss of accrued personal leave or salary.
For example, exempt employees may be permitted to take a “long lunch” or to leave a few hours early to attend to personal errands, school functions, and the like, without being required to count that time against his or her leave bank or (only for absences of a day or more) as a deduction from salary.
The chosen practice will vary from workplace to workplace and may also vary among different skill levels or job types in a workplace.
Regardless of the policy you adopt, it is important to be consistent in its application. In other words, some employees should not be allowed to leave early without consequence, while others are required to use personal leave.
In addition to the expansion of the reasons for which personal leave may be offered, the concept of “leave” itself has also expanded to include a full range alternative work arrangements for employers and employees to use.
Flex time. One such option is flex time—allowing employees to work hours other than those between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., though perhaps requiring presence during “core” daytime business hours such as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Similar variations include compressed workweeks (working four 10–hour days rather than five 8–hour days), job sharing (having two part-time employees share a job), and phased returns into and out of the workplace (for example, as employees approach retirement or return from family leaves).
Flexible work options such as these may present little burden to many employers, while providing a significant and competitive morale and loyalty-building benefit to employees.
Paid time off (PTO) banks. In addition, employers may choose to use consolidated paid-time-off (PTO) banks instead of separate pockets of time labeled vacation, personal days, holidays, and sick time.
PTO banks promote employee responsibility and give managers more notice about when workers will be out.
Leave banks and buy-back. Another leave arrangement allows for leave to be treated like a tangible commodity that can be bought, sold, and even traded and shared within the workplace.
In a leave bank, employees may voluntarily donate portions of their accrued leave to a “bank” to be used by other eligible employees as paid leave. Leave banks are an efficient way of giving employees paid leave for otherwise unpaid time—enabling them to attend to health needs and resolve family issues. An employee-sponsored leave bank also boosts morale by allowing employees to help each other.
Some employers also adopt the practice of permitting employees to buy and or sell (cash-in) leave time. This strategy allows employees to trade salary dollars for more time off (or to cash-in leave accruals that are beyond that the employee can or will use).
Here, the exchange occurs between the employer and employee rather than between employees.
These programs can be helpful in recruiting midcareer employees whose prior employers gave them more generous vacation allowances than their new employers feel is affordable.
These programs are also often appreciated by employees with project-based roles, who may be unable to take leave during certain times of year. It is important not to allow these programs to be used to such an extent that employees are not taking at least some time away from the workplace. If such situations arise, this may indicate a need to rebalance workloads or to shift deadlines (otherwise, employers risk turnover and burnout).
Guidelines on personal leave should be incorporated into the overall leave policy.
In addition to the points already mentioned, employers should consider the following when developing a policy:
Eligibility. How long must new employees work before becoming eligible to use personal days?
Requests. Personal days are designed to cover unexpected and unavoidable circumstances, and employees may need to use that time on short notice.
When the need for personal time off is foreseeable, how far in advance should requests be submitted? To whom? Must employees complete any written forms?
Timing. Are there restrictions when personal days may not be taken? For example, some employers restrict employees from using personal days immediately before holidays or vacation time, except with special permission from management.
Accumulation. Can personal time be carried over into the next year? Some employers do not permit this practice.
Termination. The circumstances under which an employee leaves the company may affect whether additional pay is received for unused personal or vacation time.
For example, some employers do not pay for unused time for employees who quit unless they give a certain amount of notice. Also, some state laws may require employers to pay employees for unused accrued time.
Unions. If the workforce is unionized, the contract probably contains provisions for personal time; the employer must comply with these provisions.
The employer should determine whether personal days for nonunionized employees will be the same as for those covered by the contract.
Changes in policy. While changing a time-off policy can be disruptive to the workforce, it is a good idea to retain the right to do so. Otherwise, an employer may find that it has an obligation to provide a benefit that no longer suits its business needs.
Last reviewed on October 5, 2018.
Related Topics:
National
Personal leave is sometimes used as a catch-all term used to describe any form of employee leave, but it is also commonly used to describe short-term absences that don’t otherwise fall under defined sick, medical, and vacation leave policies.
Sometimes referred to as “small necessities leave,” examples of these types of personal leaves may include anything from school appointments and bereavement leave to time to attend appointments and errands not otherwise covered by sick or family leave laws.
While no federal law requires employers to provide paid or unpaid personal days, some of these categories of leave may be required by various state laws. Additionally, even when not required to do so, many employers provide some form of flexible “personal leave” that can be used for the various purposes described in this topic.
Leave resources. With this in mind, before we discuss personal leave in general, let’s briefly list some of the most common types of leave and provide references to the appropriate topical resources for those categories.
Family and Medical Leave. This includes family, medical, and military caregiver leave as required under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as many comparable companion state laws.
Please see the state Leaves of Absence section.
Please see the state Military Service section.
Sick Leave. Whether paid or unpaid, this leave is typically used for shorter periods of illness or preventive care for the employee or covered family members. A growing number of state and local laws are requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for a variety of reasons, some of which may also extend to domestic violence prevention and counseling.
Please see the state Sick Leave section.
Maternity and Paternity Leave. While “maternity leave” is still often used broadly to discuss leave associated with pregnancy, these leaves (and the laws governing them) often expand to include adoption, foster children, and, of course, time for fathers to bond with new children.
In many cases, leave for medical needs related to pregnancy will be covered under federal or state medical leave laws, but such leave may also be considered an accommodation under state antidiscrimination laws.
Military Leave. In addition to leave needed to provide medical care to injured servicemembers, as provided by federal and state family and medical leave laws, employers may also be required to provide employees with protected periods of leave to participate in military service and training, as well as for qualifying exigencies related to military service.
Vacations and Paid Time Off (PTO). While no federal or state law requires it, most employers provide some form of vacation time to employees. This may also be provided in a combined “paid time off” policy that covers a variety of leave needs. Employers that promise vacation time may create obligations to pay out that accrued leave when the employee leaves the company.
Please see the state Vacations section.
Bereavement Leave. A handful of states also require employers to provide a period of leave for a death in the employee’s immediate family. Yet, even in states that don’t require such leave, most employers provide employees with a reasonable period of time to grieve and attend to funeral arrangements during these difficult times.
Please see the state Leaves of Absence section.
Jury and Witness Service Leave. Leave for jury duty and court appearances is another form of leave that most employers provide, regardless of state law requirements (of which there are several). The prevailing attitude is that an employee who is summoned to serve on a jury or testify in court has a civic obligation to do so, and that the company has a responsibility to support that duty.
Please see the state Jury Duty/Court Appearance section.
Voting Leave. Another civic duty that most employers provide leave for employees to perform is that of voting. Employers that do not already have such policies must consult with state laws, as employees may be entitled to a reasonable period of time to cast votes in elections if the employee’s work schedule does not otherwise allow him or her to do so.
Information on state laws requiring time off to vote is available in the State Law Chart Builder.
In addition to the numerous forms of leave detailed above, employers may also provide ”personal leave” for short-term absences for other life needs.
Further examples may include time to attend school functions such as parent-teacher conferences, time to attend personal educational pursuits, and even time to run errands or attend nonmedical appointments.
This leave allows employees the flexibility needed to manage family and life needs and may not only improve morale, but also productivity, since employees with available time spend less time searching for alternative ways and individuals to manage these tasks.
In addition to the leaves required above, various small necessities leave requirements, particularly those related to school attendance, may also be required by state law.
For additional details, a concise multistate comparison of state “small necessities” leave laws is also available in the State Law Chart Builder.
Personal leave and the FLSA. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (29 CFR 541.118) permits employers to deduct from salary for full days taken for personal reasons other than sick or disability leave without loss of the employee’s exempt status.
Thus, if an employee is absent for a day or longer to handle personal affairs, his or her salaried status will not be affected if deductions are made from his or her salary for such absences.
If an employee is absent for less than a day, he or she must be paid for the full day. It is important to note that employers may deduct from an employee's allotted personal time under the company's leave plan in increments of less than a day. The employer simply may not deduct an employee's pay for less than a day's absence.
Please see the national Exempt Employees section.
Best practices. Since many exempt workers work hours beyond the scheduled workday, but without entitlement to overtime compensation, one of the perks and trade-offs often associated with exempt status may be the ability to take certain periods of leave without loss of accrued personal leave or salary.
For example, exempt employees may be permitted to take a “long lunch” or to leave a few hours early to attend to personal errands, school functions, and the like, without being required to count that time against his or her leave bank or (only for absences of a day or more) as a deduction from salary.
The chosen practice will vary from workplace to workplace and may also vary among different skill levels or job types in a workplace.
Regardless of the policy you adopt, it is important to be consistent in its application. In other words, some employees should not be allowed to leave early without consequence, while others are required to use personal leave.
In addition to the expansion of the reasons for which personal leave may be offered, the concept of “leave” itself has also expanded to include a full range alternative work arrangements for employers and employees to use.
Flex time. One such option is flex time—allowing employees to work hours other than those between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., though perhaps requiring presence during “core” daytime business hours such as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Similar variations include compressed workweeks (working four 10–hour days rather than five 8–hour days), job sharing (having two part-time employees share a job), and phased returns into and out of the workplace (for example, as employees approach retirement or return from family leaves).
Flexible work options such as these may present little burden to many employers, while providing a significant and competitive morale and loyalty-building benefit to employees.
Paid time off (PTO) banks. In addition, employers may choose to use consolidated paid-time-off (PTO) banks instead of separate pockets of time labeled vacation, personal days, holidays, and sick time.
PTO banks promote employee responsibility and give managers more notice about when workers will be out.
Leave banks and buy-back. Another leave arrangement allows for leave to be treated like a tangible commodity that can be bought, sold, and even traded and shared within the workplace.
In a leave bank, employees may voluntarily donate portions of their accrued leave to a “bank” to be used by other eligible employees as paid leave. Leave banks are an efficient way of giving employees paid leave for otherwise unpaid time—enabling them to attend to health needs and resolve family issues. An employee-sponsored leave bank also boosts morale by allowing employees to help each other.
Some employers also adopt the practice of permitting employees to buy and or sell (cash-in) leave time. This strategy allows employees to trade salary dollars for more time off (or to cash-in leave accruals that are beyond that the employee can or will use).
Here, the exchange occurs between the employer and employee rather than between employees.
These programs can be helpful in recruiting midcareer employees whose prior employers gave them more generous vacation allowances than their new employers feel is affordable.
These programs are also often appreciated by employees with project-based roles, who may be unable to take leave during certain times of year. It is important not to allow these programs to be used to such an extent that employees are not taking at least some time away from the workplace. If such situations arise, this may indicate a need to rebalance workloads or to shift deadlines (otherwise, employers risk turnover and burnout).
Guidelines on personal leave should be incorporated into the overall leave policy.
In addition to the points already mentioned, employers should consider the following when developing a policy:
Eligibility. How long must new employees work before becoming eligible to use personal days?
Requests. Personal days are designed to cover unexpected and unavoidable circumstances, and employees may need to use that time on short notice.
When the need for personal time off is foreseeable, how far in advance should requests be submitted? To whom? Must employees complete any written forms?
Timing. Are there restrictions when personal days may not be taken? For example, some employers restrict employees from using personal days immediately before holidays or vacation time, except with special permission from management.
Accumulation. Can personal time be carried over into the next year? Some employers do not permit this practice.
Termination. The circumstances under which an employee leaves the company may affect whether additional pay is received for unused personal or vacation time.
For example, some employers do not pay for unused time for employees who quit unless they give a certain amount of notice. Also, some state laws may require employers to pay employees for unused accrued time.
Unions. If the workforce is unionized, the contract probably contains provisions for personal time; the employer must comply with these provisions.
The employer should determine whether personal days for nonunionized employees will be the same as for those covered by the contract.
Changes in policy. While changing a time-off policy can be disruptive to the workforce, it is a good idea to retain the right to do so. Otherwise, an employer may find that it has an obligation to provide a benefit that no longer suits its business needs.
Last reviewed on October 5, 2018.
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