HR Compliance: Employee Leave, Legal Rules

HR Compliance: Employee Leave, Legal Rules

Employees may need to take time off from work for various reasons, including for their own medical situations or family emergencies. Federal and state leave laws require employers to provide employees with leave in certain situations. In general, when employees request time off from work, employers should consider their obligations under:

  • The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if applicable;
  • The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA);
  • The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if applicable; and
  • Any applicable state and local laws on employee leave, including laws about paid sick leave.

General Rules

At the federal level, the FMLA, USERRA and the ADA require covered employers to provide leave in certain situations. Many states have their own laws regarding employee leave, including family and medical leave, school leave, and organ donation leave. As a growing trend, states and localities are adopting paid sick leave laws.

Key Compliance Steps

  • Determine which leave laws apply to your organization.
  • Review employee leave policies and practices for compliance with applicable laws.
  • Train supervisors on leave policies.
  • Administer employee leaves in a consistent and nondiscriminatory manner across your organization.

Employee Leave Laws


In general, when employees request time off from work, employers should consider their obligations under federal, state and, local leave laws. At the federal level, the three primary laws that employers may need to comply with when handling leave requests and creating leave policies are the FMLA, ADA, and USERRA.

The FMLA provides eligible employees of covered employers with unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Private-sector employers are covered by the FMLA if they have 50 or more employees during 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or previous calendar year. Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid FMLA leave in a 12-month period for several reasons.

The ADA prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability and requires that covered employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Employers are covered by the ADA if they have 15 or more employees. The ADA is not necessarily a “leave law.” However, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employees with disabilities must have access to leave on the same basis as all other similarly situated employees. Also, in certain situations, leave may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

USERRA provides protections to individuals who are absent from employment due to military service. USERRA applies to all employers, regardless of size.

Employers should also be aware of the state and local laws that impact employee leaves. Most states have their own family and medical leave laws, and many states have other laws that allow employees to take leave in certain situations, such as leave for parents to attend school events. Another important trend for employers to watch is states enacting laws requiring sick leave or leave for any reason at all.

Coordinating employee leaves under the various leave laws can be a challenge for employers. State leave laws often provide greater protections to employees than federal leave laws. Also, state and local laws tend to change more frequently than federal laws, which means that employers need to monitor legal developments to stay up-to-date.

Employers should also be aware of the risk of legal claims for interference, retaliation, and discrimination when managing employee leaves. To reduce their legal risk for these types of claims, employers should administer their leave policies in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner throughout the organization.


Stay tuned over on LinkedIn where we’ll share more tips and details later this month in our posts!

Our ECG team is always here to help your team stay up to date with changing rules and regulations around leave policies and we help guide teams through all of their compliance needs and challenges.

This Compliance Overview is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. ©2021, 2023 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

Key Points: Employers should make sure that their leave policies are consistent with applicable laws and are administered correctly. In some circumstances, more than one type of leave law may apply to an employee’s request for time off. In these situations, the employer should generally comply with the leave rule that is most favorable or generous to the employee. Also, where possible, employers should consider running different types of employee leaves concurrently to minimize an employee’s leave entitlement.