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10 lesser-known types of employee leave to consider


Most businesses offer their employees a standard set of leaves, such as:

  • Sick leave
  • Vacation/paid time off (PTO)
  • Health/medical leave associated with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state-required leave
  • Maternity/parental leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Short- and long-term disability leave, which is often used as wage replacement for individuals who are unable to work and do not receive paid time off
  • Public holidays
  • “Floating holidays” for less common religious observations – or simply for an employee to use however they see fit
  • Jury duty leave
  • Military leave

To many of us, these employee leaves are familiar and popular, and some are even mandated by federal or state laws.

But what about the more atypical, lesser-known types of leave you may not be aware of?

Employee leaves are typically a coveted part of any company benefits package. Are there leave opportunities you’re not leveraging that could make sense for your business and deliver value for your current and prospective employees?

Let’s explore some employee leaves that seem to be on the rise as businesses accommodate the changing needs of their workforce. None of these leaves we’ll discuss here is yet mandated by federal law, but some states have already adopted laws centered on them.

Uncommon types of employee leave

1. School activity leave

Working parents sometimes can’t participate much at their children’s school. It can be incredibly disappointing for them to miss out on such a major aspect of their children’s lives and the memories that are associated with it.

That’s why some businesses have started allowing their employees a set number of hours per year to attend school functions that take place during typical office hours. For example:

  • Activities and special events
  • Holiday parties
  • Lunches with children
  • Performances
  • Parent-teacher conferences
  • Meetings

2. Adult literacy leave

For workers in certain industries, California has a law stating that employers must reasonably accommodate employees who disclose their illiteracy and request employer assistance to enroll in an adult literacy education program, providing the accommodation does not impose a hardship on the employer. If a leave is provided, it may be unpaid. Often, these employees are lower income or occupy roles that involve only manual work.

This leave provides illiterate employees the opportunity to acquire and enhance reading skills, which are critical to improving their professional prospects and helping them move into higher-paying positions requiring more skills.

3. Adoption or foster leave

New biological parents can take time away from work to bond with their new family member. An adoption or foster leave offers these types of parents the same opportunity. This type of leave recognizes that adopting or fostering a child is also:

  • A significant life event
  • A major transition
  • Equally as important and valid as giving birth

Usually, adoption or foster leave is protected within FMLA leave or applicable state laws. However, companies that do not meet eligibility for FMLA leave or its state-level counterpart can implement a broader parental leave to include adoption and fostering a child.

4. Organ and bone marrow donor leave

Donating organs and bone marrow to help save others’ lives and cure patients of serious illnesses is an endeavor that many employers are starting to notice and reward with employee leave.

Usually, this leave runs concurrently with FMLA leave. When it has been implemented to date, employees typically receive up to seven days per calendar year for bone marrow donations and up to 30 days per year for organ donation. This is intended to cover time away for the medical procedure and recovery.

5. Volunteer leave

Some employees may express the desire to volunteer more, but they don’t have the time between work and their own personal obligations.

Companies that want to demonstrate their commitment to the community or underscore their support for specific social causes and local organizations have started offering leave for employees to engage in volunteer activities. Usually, this is a set number of hours per month or year.

6. Emergency responder leave

Do you have employees who are volunteer firefighters, paramedics, nurses or doctors? Or do you have employees who volunteer with organizations that help clean up homes and neighborhoods or rescue people after disasters – even if it involves travel over hundreds of miles to provide critical aid?

Your company may want to consider offering leave for emergency responders so they can fulfill these duties. This is another great way to demonstrate support for the community.

7. Political leave

In Connecticut, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against or terminate an employee for working as a state legislator or campaigning for office. In other words, employers must allow employees time away from their regular job to engage in these activities.

However, not all political activity should warrant dedicated leave. After all, mixing politics with work can be tricky and most employers want to avoid wading into this scenario, lest they give the appearance of endorsing any specific viewpoint.

If an employee wants to attend a rally, protest or campaign event during work hours, they should use accrued PTO. (Note: Political activity may be protected according to the National Labor Relations Board, meaning that employers can’t take adverse action against an employee for engaging in political activity outside work or prevent them from using PTO for this purpose.)

8. Voting leave

In recognition of the fact that not all employees are able to get to the polls during designated hours, some employers offer voting leave in states where it’s not already required. Typically, an employee is able to take a few hours on Election Day to exercise their right to vote.

9. “Pawternity” leave

For your pet-owning employees, their furry friends are a beloved companion and an important part of their family. Adding a new pet usually calls for a period of acclimation. Likewise, the death of a pet – particularly a pet that an employee has lived with for several years – can feel just as devastating as the loss of a human friend or family member.

In response, some employers have begun offering what’s known as “pawternity” leave to help employees get acquainted with a new pet or grieve the death of a pet. Typically, this type of leave allows for a few days per year off work or the option to work remotely for a specified period.

10. Personal leave or sabbatical

Employees can take an extended leave, also known as a sabbatical, for a variety of personal reasons such as the pursuit of additional education or to travel. The length of the personal leave, and whether it’s paid or unpaid, is up to the employer and the circumstances of each leave.

Benefits of these types of leave

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, employees’ expectations of their employers have evolved. Today, employees want companies to:

  • Be more flexible
  • Encourage work-life balance
  • Promote personal wellbeing and fulfillment

Offering more unusual types of leaves – in addition to the standard leaves that most companies provide by law – may be a smart adaptation to this new working landscape.

How so?

  • It demonstrates genuine care for your employees and recognition that they are whole people with lives, obligations and needs outside work.
  • It reflects trust in your employees.
  • It reinforces a positive workplace culture.

As a result, your company can excel at:

  • Differentiating itself from competitors
  • Generating positive word of mouth among employees and job candidates
  • Attracting top-tier talent
  • Delivering an outstanding employee experience, increasing morale and satisfaction
  • Retaining valued employees for longer periods of time

Getting started

Consider your business

As you think about which types of leave to implement and how, first consider the type of business you have, including its size, number of employees and the nature of your operations, to evaluate what’s feasible.

You’ll also want to get a solid idea of what resonates most with your employees, since retention metrics are an important goal driving this decision. Ask them directly or issue a survey to find out whether:

  • Additional options for leave are important to them
  • Certain types of leave are more desirable than others

Draft a policy for each leave

Any enhancements to your PTO/leave policy should be documented in writing and incorporated into your employee handbook. For each type of leave your business offers, create a sub-policy within your overall PTO/leave policy.

Putting this information in writing:

  • Clarifies the different types of leave that employees can take
  • Outlines the rules and parameters for available leaves, including who qualifies and why
  • Sets expectations and gets everyone on the same page
  • Establishes transparency
  • Gives employees a reference for when they have questions

Communicate with employees

Ensure that all employees are aware of all types of leave available to them by making a formal announcement and sending them the new policies. Ask them to acknowledge receipt.

Apply each leave policy consistently

To avoid charges of discrimination or unfair treatment, don’t deviate from the language in your written policies as you manage employee leaves.

Summing it all up

These days, attracting and retaining talent may require more than the standard benefit offerings that every other company offers. To really deliver a stand-out employee experience and show your people that you care about them, consider giving your PTO/leave practices a boost by incorporating other, less common types of employee leave. Although these types of leave may be unusual, they may also be extremely meaningful to your employees. To confirm what your employees value and prioritize, ask them. Once you’ve identified new types of leave that resonate with employees and evaluated their feasibility for your business, draft a policy for each, communicate this to employees and be consistent in the application of these policies.

To continue learning more about how to create a PTO/leave policy and why it’s so important, download our free e-book: 10 must-have policies that no business can do without.