leave-of-absence
  • Leave Management

Leave of absence: what employers should know

Aude Creveau
Aude Creveau

Business operations are sometimes a chaotic mess as-is. Between handling employees to fulfilling products, you've got a lot on your plate. Staying up-to-date on leave of absence laws is likely on the low end of important things to do. 

Your reign on employment law is vital for operational success. A research conducted by Westfield Health found that the total cost of employee absence in the UK was £14 billion in 2020. 

Employees can and will take time off. Sometimes time off is a necessity through sick leave. In others, time off is to get away from the hustle and bustle. How you handle these occurrences matter — for the sake of employees and legal. 

In this article, you'll get up-to-speed on current leave of absence and employment laws. You'll get a firm understanding of leave of absence. And, you'll get a glimpse of where laws are directing businesses in 2019 and beyond. 

Leave of absence and employment law: what employers should know

One shouldn't destabilise employee retention by misunderstanding employment law. These laws are in place to protect both the business and its employees. Both parties understanding them offers a better workplace experience for all.

What laws should you know about employees? Consider the following.

Understanding leave of absence

A leave of absence and how its handled may fall under two categories: 

  • Statutory 
  • Contractual 

Statutory rights are those covered under the UK federal laws. This leave of absence type may include anything from career breaks and public duties. Legal recognition could include holiday entitlement, travel disruption, and a lot more.  

holiday-at-beach

 The Working Time Regulations (1998) defined the maximum weekly working time limit. These rules change depending on one's sector, age, and job type. 

Most adhere to the following for full-time (up to 48-hours) employees:

  • 5.6 weeks of paid holiday/time off per year
  • 8 UK bank holidays within the entitlement

All workers, including those in part-time, are entitled to take leave of absence. The right for leave of absence from work begins at the start of their employment.  

Common types leave of absence under the laws include: 

  • Parental leave
  • Bereavement
  • Military leave
  • Jury duty 
  • Voting 
  • Family and medical leave 

Sometimes these may fall under mandatory or voluntary leave of absence. Whichever, the employer should alert their employer whenever possible. 

There are also leave of absence factors based on contractual agreements.

Employers may offer an extended period of time off for their employees. They cannot, however, remove the baseline time offset by employment laws. 

About bereavement/compassionate leave of absence

A compassionate leave or bereavement leave of absence gets reserved for immediate family members. This usually involves severe illness or death.

The employer contract decides if they'll cover compassionate time off from work. And, whether it's paid or unpaid leave. Here you can find a guide to bereavement leave

It's a moral issue employers should consider and debate. Enabling compassionate leave can improve workplace morale and retention, after all.

Why employees are taking time off

Absences are at an all-time low across the UK. In fact, employees will take just 5.9 days off throughout the year. This pales in comparison to nearly a dozen days, and as high as a full month, from past decades. 

Despite the decline -- one must ask what causes the few days they do: 

  • 83% of respondents say people work when unwell 
  • 63% say people use holidays to work or work when they're sick 
  • 37% report an increase in stress-related absence / stress-related absence 

Illnesses like colds and even harassment are reasons why employees take time off. Stress, child/elder care, and medical conditions are other reasons for taking leave of absence. 

Most organisations have some form of policy or system to handle absences. Yet, problems arise within smaller workforces where single absences are noticeable. 

stress-work

Sick days and employee rights

Some 72% of UK employees say taking time off improves their well being. However, many avoid taking days off to avoid financial distress or reprimands. Many businesses have a culture where one's expected to work even when sick! 

You don't want to see employees out of the office as an employer. Yet, you also want the best for employees including their wellness. The best thing you can do is to follow work laws covering their sick days and rights. 

The items involving sick days and leave you should know about: 

A business should treat sickness with respect, including privacy. You may inquire about symptoms, expected return time, and the like, but don't prod. Let employees fill a self-certification (SC2) or a fit note upon returning.

  • Yes, you will pay employees for sick days under the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) law
  • Yes, you may reprimand a faked sickness but this is best done after a return-to-work interview

You may also need to make adjustments upon an employees return. Coordinate this with HR department using a document management system.

The 2020 employment law updates (so far)

Several important employment updates have taken effect in 2019. Whoever has the responsibility following these updates should take note. And, include others in the conversation when applying them if applicable. 

Notable changes include:

  • Updates and reforms involving IR35 / off payroll working rules and how taxes and payments are handled between parties
  • Holiday pay is to be included, under Regulation 16 of the Working Time Directive, for the 1st four weeks 
  • An enhancement to shared parental leave is stuck in appeals, this bridged the gap in paid time off for those taking parental leave

A huge change is a recent decision to require employers to set up a timekeeping system. This is to extend the Working Time Directive and the policies it lays out for tracking labour. The update should provide ample information to further understand statutory employment rights. 

Those businesses without time and attendance software capabilities should explore updated options. Employers will need to provide better monitoring for their workers. The result will include better, detailed reports for all parties.

Scaling HR management with smart solutions  

kiwiHR provides many compliance resources and absence management software. With our platform, you'll have a clear overview of employee absences within a central hub.

Our online HR software empowers line managers through review attendance solutions. From time tracking to return-to-work interviews, kiwiHR offers many methods for managing absences, including using a staff leave planner or an employee vacation planner.

We're always expanding our tool to make the lives of HR easier, too.


We'd love to show how kiwiHR is the perfect, smart HR software for scaling HR management. Schedule an online demo to explore our tool. Or, start a 14-day trial and see how our tool can save you up to 700 hours of work each year.  

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