Can an employer deny unpaid time off? (legally)

Even though not every employer can afford to offer paid leave, most employers understand that their employees might request time off to take care of personal matters.

In most cases, the law doesn’t necessarily require businesses to provide unpaid leave. But in exceptional circumstances, some companies may offer a leave of absence.

Yet, unpaid time off is determined by the employer’s policies and the contract an employee has.

So, can an employer refuse an unpaid leave request? Let’s take a closer look at the most common situations that can arise when an employee might require unpaid time off.

We will also cover some of the legal situations when an employee can be granted a leave of absence.

Do companies allow unpaid time off?

Can an employer deny you unpaid time off

Some companies allow unpaid time off. Businesses can have various voluntary leave of absence policies. A policy like that will have a clear set of rules that are created to manage employee absences. It should also outline what sort of leaves the employees are entitled to and how to request them.

Whether an employer allows UTO (unpaid time off) primarily depends on the company policies and the contract of employment.

However, businesses still have to comply with a number of federal, state, and local laws regarding employment issues.

The main sources of unpaid leave laws and regulations include:

How much unpaid time off can you take?

The duration of unpaid time off will depend on internal company policies and employment laws. They should specify which employees have access to UTO, how many hours off an employee is entitled to in a given period, and what happens if an employee exceeds the number of days.

For example, according to the FMLA, employees can take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks within a period of one year to recover from health problems and take care of sick family members.

If you exceed that period, it’s up to your employer to decide whether they can grant you more days off.

Can an employer deny you unpaid time off?

Unless an employee has the right to request UTO according to any of the federal, state, or local laws, an employer might deny unpaid time off.

A leave of absence might be denied in the following circumstances:

  • Employer will incur significant expenses or difficulties due to your leave;
  • There is no indication of how long your leave will last;
  • There is a shortage of staff, and the employer can’t find a replacement.

As a worker, you should be free to know your employment rights. If you are uncertain whether you can request a personal leave, consult with your Human Resources department on the matter.

Can an employer refuse unpaid maternity leave?

Under FMLA, your employer cannot refuse you unpaid time off for birth and care of a newborn. The 12-week period can be taken all at once or broken up within your baby’s first year. Dads can benefit from this benefit too.

Although, if both parents work in the same company, their leave has to be coordinated with the employer.

Usually, the father of the child will be the one who will be asked to be more present at work while the mother stays home and takes care of the newborn(s).

However, it’s important to remember that FMLA doesn’t apply to everyone. In order to be able to take advantage of this benefit, you must work in a company for at least a year and have at least 1250 hours of service within 12 months.

Moreover, the benefit isn’t applicable to companies with less than 50 employees.

Your state laws can also grant you additional benefits for family leave. For instance, new parents living in Massachusetts can apply for 8 weeks of time off after childbirth or adoption.

California residents can apply for an additional 10 to 12-week family leave on top of the federal law. And in New York, it’s possible to take family leave at 67 percent of your pay.

Make sure to check your state maternity laws before planning your maternity leave.

Can an employer refuse unpaid parental leave?

Parental leaves are more likely to be rejected by your employer, as not every company has policies for family concerns.

Unless the law covers your leave, the employer can ask you to postpone or refuse unpaid parental leave.

The FMLA benefit covers unpaid parental leaves following the first year of your child’s birth or adoption, as well as child care in cases of serious health conditions.

However, to be in “serious health conditions” means to have an illness or an injury that requires inpatient care.

If the circumstances are less serious, but your child still requires care, you might need to request sick leave. For other emergencies, make sure to check your company policies on parental leave.

It’s important to understand that your leave might create difficulties for your employer, hence, finding someone to cover your shift can help get your unpaid leave approved.

Can you be fired for taking unpaid time off?

Employees may be entitled to a job-protected UTO under some circumstances dictated by federal or state law.

Therefore, termination of a contract during the period of your family or medical leave may be considered unlawful.

Otherwise, if an employer isn’t covered by federal or state leave benefits or antidiscrimination laws, then an employee may be terminated for taking UTO.

Moreover, your employment agreement and employee rulebook should specify the benefits that the company grants you. Those can include sick leave policies, vacation leave, and whether there is a cap for unpaid leave.

An employee handbook should also lay out your legal obligations as an employee and what penalties can be applied for their violation. This can involve contract termination as well.