Handling Unpaid Leave Requests

There are times when an employee is going to want more time off than they have available to them through your company’s regular paid leave policies. Maybe the employee has applied for and won some kind of fellowship. Maybe they need to take some extra time to spend with family during a difficult time. Or maybe they want to embark on some kind of grand travel day. These kinds of situations can prompt an employee to file an unpaid leave request. Whether or not your company has an official policy covering this type of time off, handling unpaid leave requests can be tricky. This article provides some guidance on how to do it.


Pay Attention to How Employees Make Unpaid Leave Requests

Because most companies don’t have a specific policy around handling unpaid leave requests, a smart employee will go about this process delicately since they’re attempting to navigate largely unchartered waters. Managers and HR staff should keep an open mind to unpaid leave requests rather than just immediately rejecting them out of hand because they fall outside the company’s written benefits and leave policies. But savvy employees do negotiate unpaid leave. The ones who are successful approach it in thoughtful and creative ways.


The employee who asks for a substantial unpaid leave should be one who knows they bring a lot of value to the company and have a sense that you want to keep them on board. But this should also come through with a healthy dose of humility, not arrogance or cockiness. The desire to retain the employee also has to be balanced out with your desire to keep them close and engaged. If the employee is smart, they will have thought through any long-term goals they have with the company and address how those will be affected and maintained in light of an extended leave of absence. In other words, you want to see that they employee has thought through all the implications of this kind of leave and doesn’t approach it with a kind of cavalier attitude.


Is There Purpose to the Time Off Request?

Smart employees making unpaid leave requests will provide details on what it is they hope to accomplish during their time away and how it will benefit their work at your company. It might be developing a new skillset or making sure they don’t approach burnout. If they take the time to frame their request as something developmentally beneficial that will bring added value to the job, those efforts should be viewed favorably.


It also helps if they’ve put some effort into finding out the historical precedents of unpaid leave requests in your company, or even examples that they’ve learned of at other companies in your industry. In short, if an employee can present a compelling case for the purpose the time off, it should make a difference in how you respond. This would also include how well they’ve thought through potential objections, such as how their essential duties will be covered during an extended absence. If the employee has a solid plan for minimizing the impact of an absence (such as timing it to occur during a typically slow time for the business), that can go a long way towards easing understandable concerns your company may have.


Also assess the risks involved in your response. If this is a star performer you don’t want to lose, finding a way to work it out and grant the request could make a big difference to the employee’s long-term loyalty and tenure at the company. If denying the request might result in the employee quitting, are you willing to take on the cost of finding and hiring a replacement? Also, consider how willing the employee is to adjust their idea in order to make it happen, such as flexibility in timing of the leave, maybe doing it in several chunks if possible rather than all at once, and so forth. Be willing to work with the employee to figure it out in a way that is mutually acceptable to everyone involved.


As you can see, handling unpaid leave requests is a surprisingly complex negotiation process with many factors to consider. Both sides need to keep and open mind, be flexible, and plan carefully in order to find a mutually acceptable response that can provide benefits to both the employee and the company.


Whether it’s unpaid leave requests or regular paid time off, keeping accurate records of leave time is essential for your company to gain actionable insights into managing its workforce more effectively. If it’s time to ditch the paper forms and spreadsheets for a software solution that automates and streamlines many leave management tasks, take a look at what CaptureLeave offers your company. As a web-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, its robust features and ease of use are available to you 24/7/365 with nothing to download, install or maintain. Check it out for yourself with a 60-day free trial, after which you’ll love its affordable monthly pricing. Staying up-to-date on topics and developments related to leave management, employee time and attendance, absence management and more is easy when you bookmark the CaptureLeave Blog page and visit every week for the latest article and news you can use!

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