How to Take a Leave of Absence From Your Nursing Job

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
Nurse planning a break

Whether for family, medical, or personal reasons, there are a variety of good reasons to take a leave of absence from work. These reasons can range from reporting for jury duty to having to care for a family member who is critically ill.

It’s helpful to know what your rights are surrounding job protection and leaves of absence — whether mandatory or voluntary — as well as the best way to go about requesting voluntary leaves. Read on to learn more about types of leave you can take and the steps on how to request a leave, plus you can use our email template to help you ask your supervisor for leave.

What Is a Leave of Absence From Work?

A leave of absence from work is defined as a temporary break in your employment. There are two different types of leave:

Mandatory Leave

The federal government oversees leaves of absence having to do with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Qualified employees are eligible for leave with job protection under these acts. We’ll talk more about the FLMA and ADA in the next section.

Voluntary Leave

Sabbaticals and long-term travel are examples falling under this category. Think of them more like job perks. These leaves can be paid or unpaid, depending on your employer’s policy. For example, some companies offer paid time off (PTO) as a benefit to full-time workers.

Before you temporarily step away, it’s important to be mindful of your employer’s needs when you’re thinking about how to take a leave of absence from your nursing job. This helps ensure your ability to return to work more easily and may even increase the likelihood of your request being granted.

The absence of legal protection may affect the way you approach how to take a leave of absence, but it doesn’t snuff out your chances of approval altogether. It’s up to the employer’s discretion. Make sure you get the terms you’ve agreed upon in writing.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Researching the FMLA is one of the first steps in learning how to take a leave of absence because it tells you about an employee’s right to take unpaid or, if eligible, partially paid leave for specific family and medical reasons. (There is no federal law that requires employees to receive paid family or medical leave.)

An employee is likely eligible for FMLA if they’ve been with a company for at least a year, worked at least 1,250 hours, and the company at which they’re employed has at least 50 employees. It’s wise to review your situation with a lawyer who can answer questions about whether or not you’re covered by the FMLA.

Under FMLA, the employee maintains the same insurance coverage, and their position is held until his or her return. Qualifying employees in any state are eligible to take 12 weeks off during a period of 12 months for:

  • Childbirth
  • Adoption
  • Foster care placement
  • Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • Self-care for a health condition that impedes the employee’s ability to work
  • Urgent needs related to a spouse, child, or parent on military active duty

Employees can take 26 weeks off work to care for a military spouse, child, parent, or if the employee is the next of kin to a member of the military with a serious injury.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA applies to employers that have at least 15 workers. If an employee is considerably limited in their ability to perform a major life activity due to an impairment (physical or mental), that employee is protected under the ADA. The employee has a right to reasonable accommodation, a form of which may be work leave. They must be granted accommodation unless the employer claims this would cause the company/facility undue hardship.

Unlike with the FMLA, there is no universal amount of leave time that an employer must provide to the employee. It is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends on the employee’s job and disability.

If an employee requests a leave of absence or another accommodation under the ADA, an employer is permitted to ask the employee for medical information. The purpose of the information is to confirm an employee’s disability, determine how much time away from work is needed, and review accommodation options. That said, medical information is required to be kept confidential and separate from the employee’s file.

Research the Company’s Leave Policy

Your employee handbook should inform you of your company’s policy on extended leave, and the reasons for time off that are protected by state and/or federal law. Awareness of this information can impact how you frame your request and make the conversation between you and your supervisor go more smoothly. This may also protect you from being taken advantage of in case your boss tries to alter those facts to deter you from taking time off.

Be sure to make a note of anything in the handbook that is unclear or vague with regards to taking a leave. This could be related to length of time you’re allowed to be on work leave, whether you’re entitled to partial pay, and if you’re required to periodically check in with someone during your leave. You’ll want to be able to reference these questions when you meet with your manager or human resources to discuss the terms of your leave.

Ask In Person or on a Video Call

Rather than sending an email or calling your supervisor on the phone, it’s better to go about requesting a leave during an in-person or video meeting. This way, your employer is able to see all your non-verbal cues indicating your need to make this ask and your respect for them. You can readily answer questions regarding the reasons for your leave and how you’ll aid the transition.

Set a Clear Time Frame and Inform Your Employer in Advance

Providing your employer with a specific time frame is important because it helps them plan how to fill your role while you’re away. Let them know well before your intended leave date, whenever possible. This may also alleviate any reactionary anxiety, thus increasing your chances of being approved for an extended time off.

Help Your Employer Cover Your Position

Your absence may strain the workplace, especially if a facility is already short-staffed. Having a plan, or the beginnings of one at the very least, is not only a courtesy, but also boosts your chances of being allowed to take time off. It may also ease your transition back to work when your leave of absence is complete. You may also offer to train a temporary replacement or write up a list of FAQs for whoever will be assuming your duties.

Follow Up With an Email

This is an important step in how to take a leave of absence because a paper trail creates a record of the terms of your leave. You may also need proof in the future for legal reasons. Here’s an example of what you might say if requesting a voluntary leave:

Dear [Manager’s Name],

I would like to put in for a leave of absence from my position as an RN at ABC Facility so that I can complete the final phase of researching and writing a scholarly article that I am co-authoring about disease prevention technology for XYZ Journal. I would like to take my leave on February 1, 20XX, through June 1, 20XX.

Please let me know what paperwork I must complete in order to formally request this leave of absence. I would also appreciate having a quick meeting with you wherein we can discuss coverage during my time away from ABC Facility. I would gladly train a replacement to assume my job responsibilities prior to my leave.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


[Name, phone number]

Inform Your Colleagues

When your leave is approved, send an email to let your colleagues know you’ll be absent. This is not only polite, but also necessary in order to implement the plan you and your employer create to fill the void you’ll be leaving. Your leave will likely have ripple effects outside of the people with whom you directly work. General awareness will help your department adjust as a whole and foster a transparent work culture.

Navigating How to Take a Leave of Absence Just Got Easier

The reasons behind taking an extended time off may be a lot to handle, but securing a workplace that fits your lifestyle can make things easier. Find out how IntelyCare can connect you with nursing job opportunities that align with your needs.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but it is not intended to constitute professional legal advice for any particular situation and should not be relied on as professional legal advice. Any references to the law may not be current as laws regularly change through updates in legislation, regulation, and case law at the federal and state level. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.