How To Prepare For A Leave Of Absence

If you’re going to be away from your job, you need to prepare yourself (and others) for your absence.

How To Prepare For A Leave Of Absence
[Image: Flickr user Alex]

It’s not uncommon for people to take a break from their careers.


Sometimes the time away is planned–such as maternity leave or a sabbatical to write the great American novel–but sometimes it’s not (medical leave or caring for a sick family member). Regardless of the circumstances, your absence will likely impact others at work. Julie Mosow recently examined the issue in a blog post for Harvard Business Review. Here are her four tips:

1. Know Your Rights.

As soon as you know that you’ll be taking time off, check your company’s handbook for specifics on your particular type of leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for an employee to care for a new baby, a sick family member, or their own serious medical condition. When leave is foreseeable, employees must notify employers 30 days in advance, or as soon as practicable if not foreseeable.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an employee must provide sufficient information for the employer to determine whether the FMLA applies to the leave request. (The FMLA only applies to private businesses with more than 50 employees.) State laws also apply, but each state is different, so familiarize yourself with your state’s laws concerning maternity or disability leave.

Related: How CEOs Can Actually Take Maternity Leave

2. Make A Plan, But Remain Flexible.

Mosow suggests creating a list of your key responsibilities and duties, specifying which can be handled by others and which may be harder to delegate. Then, identify which colleagues may be best positioned to handle various roles. You should also think about answers to questions like whether the company will need to hire a temporary replacement, and whether you’ll check in from time to time (via email or phone) or not at all. While it’s certainly helpful to have a plan in place, be sure to remain flexible, as business needs may change.

3. Let Your Boss Know First.

Since both good and bad news travel fast, it’s important to let your boss know first about your leave of absence. By presenting her with your plan to ensure things continue to run smoothly in your absence, you’ll show you’re committed to the company (assuming you’re planning to return). Mosow says this conversation should be the first in a series of conversations with your manager about your leave and any issues that may arise. From there, plan to speak with your colleagues about your leave. Mosow suggests positioning it as an opportunity for more junior colleagues to take on new responsibilities.


4. Inform Others Outside The Company.

If you work with customers or vendors, you’ll need to inform them of your leave and ensure they know your work is being properly transitioned. Be sure to introduce them to the colleague(s) who will be assisting them in your absence. Mosow suggests allowing enough time for you and your replacement(s) to work together with the customer, with your colleagues then taking the reins.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.