Leave of Absence: Tips & Advice

Published: Dec 05, 2006

By Sheng Wang

Whether it's due to the arrival of a new baby, to care for an ailing parent or yourself, or to fulfill your lifelong dream of scaling the Himalayas, there are many reasons why you may need to take a leave of absence from work. Here are some tips on how to make the transition easier for you and for your workplace. First of all, decide whether or not taking a leave is absolutely necessary. Alternatives include using some of your vacation time, sick days, or cutting back on your hours.

Preparing for the Leave

  • In Canada and the United States, employees are entitled to varying amounts of leave time for reasons including personal illness or injury, childbirth, adoption, fostering, or caring for sick family members. (For specifics on the above, see our earlier article.) However, if your reason for leaving does not fall under one of the above categories, then your employer may not have your job waiting for you when you return.

  • If you've suffered an illness or injury, your Occupational Health and Safety Department can provide helpful information and referrals to other services. The Human Resources Department can also be a valuable resource.

  • Get your finances in order. Set up a budget that will accommodate your everyday expenses and medical bills, and remember to leave a margin of error for unforeseen expenses. Check to see if you qualify for workers' compensation, employment insurance or disability benefits, or any other benefits, and submit your claims accordingly.

    Making a Graceful Exit

    Your work responsibilities don't go away when you do, and it's up to your coworkers or replacement to pick up the slack. Be considerate, and try to make the transition as easy as possible for the other people in your workplace.

  • Notify your employer as soon as possible so that your workplace will have enough time to make arrangements for your absence.

  • Be open with your boss. Tell him or her why you need to take a leave, how long you expect to be gone, and whether or not you want to return to your old job. Keep your employer updated about any changes in your situation.

  • If you'll only be away for a short while, draw up a list of your duties and offer suggestions on how they might be covered. If you'll be away for an extended period of time, offer to train your replacement before you go.

  • Offer to let your coworkers or replacement contact you with questions while you're away.

  • Leave a good impression. Even if you won't be returning to the same workplace, you might still need a reference from your old employer or job tips from your former coworkers.

    While You are on Leave

    If your leave is due to unfortunate, rather than fun circumstances, recovering from your illness or caring for your loved one is now your top priority. Don't worry about what's going on at work until you're ready to head back.

  • Enlist all the help you can find! Whether you're caring for a new baby or a sick family member, your spouse, relatives, and friends may be willing to help out.

  • Look after yourself. Get as much rest as you can, accept the emotional support of family and friends, and take time for yourself when you need it. You won't be able to take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself first.

  • If you've suffered an illness or injury, concentrate on making a full recovery and do not try to rush back to work. Consult your doctor, physiotherapist, and/or Occupational Health and Safety Department before returning to your job.

  • If you're a new parent, make all of your childcare arrangements before you return to work. This includes both regular childcare and a back-up plan in case of illness or emergency.

    Returning to Work

  • Even if you're returning to the same job and the same responsibilities, depending on why you took the leave, you may need some time to readjust. Consider working part-time hours at first, or do a phased return to work where you gradually take up all of your old duties.

  • Having a new baby and a demanding work schedule may be a disastrous combination. Talk to your supervisor about working fewer hours, fewer night shifts, or more flexible hours.

  • If you're returning after sick leave, you may need to ask your employer to modify your duties or provide you with ergonomic equipment. Eliminate factors (e.g. safety hazards, stress, un-ergonomic equipment) that may exacerbate your medical condition or cause it to recur.

  • If you're recovering from illness or a family crisis, going back to work can be an important part of the healing process. In addition to income, work can also give you the support of your coworkers, a boost to your self-esteem, and the sense that you're regaining control over your life.

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