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Medical Leave Of Absence


Some employers voluntarily provide a medical leave of absence without pay as part of their package of benefits. Generally these plans continue your benefits and protect your job until you're ready to return to work.

Before taking a medical leave of absence:

  • Speak with your Advisor at work if you have one.
  • See if there are other employees who have taken a medical leave of absence. They may have some good advice about what to do and what to watch for.
  • Read Paid And Unpaid Time Off to maximize the amount of time you receive pay and continue benefits.

Where to find information about a Medical Leave of Absence benefit

Look in the employee Summary Plan Description handbook or on line for a description of this benefit. It will usually be found in the section that lists the other types of leave and time-off, such as bereavement leaves, military leaves, etc. It will not usually be found in the sections about the Short and Long Term Disability plans.

Often, there is little more than a paragraph or so that states there is a plan and how long the leave lasts. Many plans offer six months. If there is no other information, you may decide to wait until you need to use the benefit to find out about it to avoid "tipping your hand" too early. 

If you don't find the answers:

  • If you've already disclosed your health condition to your employer, you can ask HR for information.
  • If you haven't told your employer yet, and don't want to do so at this time, consider waiting to find out the details of the benefit until you need to use it. Asking about the benefit may tip your hand.

The procedure for requesting benefits such as a leave of absence varies from employer to employer. If there are no instructions in writing, then you need to ask around, either to co-workers or whoever handles Human Resource issues in your company. If you are going to be off work for more than three days, many employers will require:

  • A note from your doctor explaining the medical necessity for the days missed and
  • When you are ready to return to work, a written opinion from the doctor stating that you are okay to return to work.

What to look for in a medical leave of absence policy

  • Is your salary continued in full for the whole time?
  • Are all of your benefits continued? If not, which ones aren't? (Generally all benefits are continued.)
  • Is your job protected until you return to work? (Generally, yes.)
  • What is the maximum amount of time a medical leave of absence is permitted? (Usually six months.)
  • What is the maximum number of days or months allowed?
  • Is the maximum per year, or only a set number during the entire course of your employment?
  • Must you take the time off all at once, or can you take days or weeks at a time?
  • Is permission or paperwork required? If so,
    • What proof of a medical condition is required in the paperwork?
    • Is the doctor who is the point person for your health condition willing to write a letter expressing the opinion that you should not work for the period in question because of your health condition?
    • When you ask the doctor for the letter, suggest that the doctor simply state the medical reasons for your having to take time off without giving the actual diagnosis. If your employer requires more information, your employer will ask.

As with most employee benefits, when it comes time to use the benefit, you may have to disclose the nature and possibly the extent of your health condition. If so, get a note from your doctor. All he or she has to state are the medical reasons for having to take time off without giving the actual diagnosis. 

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