Home » Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off? Is it Legal?

Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off? Is it Legal?

Yes, employers can deny unpaid time off to their employees, and it entirely depends on the company policy.

Employees often need bulk time off to take care of their matters. But not every employer can afford paid time off, mainly because they do not have the resources to do so. In such cases, the employees may ask for unpaid time off, and the employer may deny them.

In most states across the US, there is nothing in the laws that require companies to provide unpaid leave or time off. Hence, if the employee asks for time off at a hectic time of the year, the employers can refuse it, and there would be no legal repercussions.

Hence, the employee must review the company policies and contracts regarding the time-off regulations when they join the company.

Since many companies today are mindful of their employee’s physical and mental well-being, most of them give the employees leaves to help them relax and rejuvenate themselves so that they can join back with renewed vigor. Studies have shown that it results in greater productivity and also helps with employee retention.

However, whether the leaves would be paid or unpaid would be determined entirely by the company. Read on to find out more about it.

Bonus Read: Can an Employer Make You Stay After Your Scheduled Shift?

What is Unpaid Time Off?

What is Unpaid Time Off

Employers often pay their employees for time off as a part of their paid time policy. These terms are mentioned in the employment contract and include paid vacations, sick, and medical leaves.

Unpaid time off is when the employee is not paid if absent from work. This could be due to an emergency, or the employee might not have been able to attend work for some reason.

Some companies do offer some unpaid leaves to their employees. It could be in the form of a limited number of days per year where the employees can take leaves, and although they are not paid for it, there won’t be any repercussions.

However, if the employee crosses those days without a valid reason, they must be answerable to their employers on how this work is determined by the company.

Do Companies Allow Unpaid Time-Off?

Do Companies Allow Unpaid Time-Off

Many companies allow time off under various voluntary leaves of absence policies. These policies have clear rules to manage how many leaves an employee can take in a year. It serves as an outline for the employees, so they know how much time off they are entitled to and plans accordingly.

Companies must comply with various federal, state, and local employment policies before formulating their leave policies. Most of the unpaid leaves fall under the categories:

  • Laws Enforced by EEOC
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), among others

Some companies are also considerate enough to offer unpaid time off to employees to give them more flexibility. This could include hourly work timings, part-time options, or shift flexibility.

On the other hand, some companies may also have a policy that employees must use all their paid time off before they can use their unpaid time. If the company cannot offer unpaid time off, the employee can do so by opting for the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Also Read: 8 Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do

What is the FMLA?

What is the FMLA

The FMLA provides employees unpaid time off, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leaves a year with complete job protection and full medical benefits. Employees may take this leave after a birth of a child or if they have to care for an ailing family member, or if they are sick themselves.

To qualify for this, the employee must have worked with a company for at least 12 months or at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months. The company must have at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

States like Hawaii, New Jersey, Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio, Washington, and some others have their version of FMLA. The companies registered there have their UTO for the employees. The benefits might be less or more compared to others.

What is the Difference Between Paid Time-Off and Unpaid Time-Off?

What is the Difference Between Paid Time-Off and Unpaid Time-Off

Simply put, paid time-off is a leave for which the employee has no salary cuts. Depending on the state and organization, the PTO guidelines clearly state when the employee starts working. There are some limits, and the employees must make a formal request in most cases for PTO.

On the other hand, for unpaid time-off or UTO, the employee has to take a salary cut for the days of absence. While many companies have strict rules for UTOs as well, sometimes the employer will have an understanding of the employee and allow them to go on leave without pay without much formality.

An employee can request UTO for personal reasons like caring for a spouse or child, looking after an ailing elderly, pursuing a certification, lengthened maternity or paternity leave, voluntary work or community duties, relocating, fulfilling jury service, or even as a career break.

Sometimes, an employee opts for UTO when there is an emergency and compensates for it later when they do overtime. They are paid for their overtime according to company policies.

How Can You Calculate Paid and Unpaid Time-Off?

How Can You Calculate Paid and Unpaid Time-Off

Since paid and unpaid time off largely depends on company policies, it can be difficult to calculate if you are unaware of them. It would be best to consider all your sick leaves, vacations, absences, medical leaves, casual leaves, and other time-offs to calculate how much time off you are entitled to.

A lot depends on whether the employee is on the direct payroll of the company or works in shifts on an hourly basis and is paid accordingly. For example, if non-exempt employees take unpaid leaves, the payslip shows the number of days they were absent from work.

This is because non-exempt employees work hourly, and they are usually not eligible for PTO. Their wages are then adjusted for unpaid time off as reflected in their payslip.

Read More About: 14 Things to Do on Your Day off From Work to Get Recharged

How Much Unpaid Time-Off Can an Employee Take?

How Much Unpaid Time-Off Can an Employee Take

As mentioned earlier, unpaid time-offs depend on company policies to a large extent. Employers often specify how many leaves employees are entitled to when they join a company and what could happen if they exceed the stipulated days.

Many employees think that just because employers do not have to compensate for the days they take leave, they can take as many UTOs as they want. Since the employers do not have to pay them for it, they aren’t losing anything, right?

However, things often do not work that way. Even if the employer does not have to pay for UTOs, there is still a restriction on the number of days employees can take leave. Or else, employees will stay away from work for as many days as they want, jeopardizing the work.

Hence, employers might deny the request for UTOs on certain occasions.

  • If the employer feels that workflow would be hindered due to the number of days, you go on leave.
  • It would be best if you were clear about how long your unpaid leave will last.
  • There is a staff shortage, and there is no one to fill in for you while you are away.

However, under particular circumstances, an employer cannot deny your leave if you are registered under FMLA. This is also in the case of maternity leaves.

However, the employer may reject parental leave as only some companies make allowances for family concerns. In such cases, you must ensure that the laws cover your leave. Or the employer may ask you to postpone your leave or even refuse it altogether.

However, FMLA benefits cover unpaid parental leaves after the first year of the birth of a child or adoption. It will also cover child care if the child has severe health conditions and needs inpatient care.

If you can find someone to cover for you and manage your shifts, then you have a greater chance of getting your UTOs approved.

Can Your Employer Fire You for Taking Unpaid Time-Off?

Can Your Employer Fire You for Taking Unpaid Time-Off

No, your employer cannot fire you outright for taking unpaid time off, as every state has some labor protection laws.

However, your employer will give you a warning or reprimand you if you go on leave without notification and exceed your time off without making arrangements to cover your work. Stay away for increased periods, and keep taking time-offs often.

If your company had dictated the leave policies to you and you have taken extra leaves, although they were unpaid, then your employer is sure to speak to you about it. If it continues, your employer may fire you as it would cause hindrance to work.

Hence, if you are really in need of leaves and you think of taking UTOs, which might exceed the number of days your company allows, you must make sure federal and state leave benefits cover you. You must also know what the employee handbook says about employment termination and leave violations.

What Can You Do if Your Unpaid Time-Off Request is Denied?

What Can You Do if Your Unpaid Time-Off Request is Denied

Once you have put out a request for unpaid time off, you have to be prepared that it may be denied. This is especially true if there is no one to cover for you or you do not know how long you will be away.

To avoid this situation, you should first have a conversation with your employer about why this leave is essential. If you can make arrangements so that work won’t suffer in your absence, then your employer will agree in most cases.

If the employer does not agree to the request, you can try other methods like trading shifts with another worker or offering to work overtime and compensating after you return from leave.

If you are not covered by state or federal employee benefits like FMLA and choose to take leave anyway, you may have to face disciplinary action on returning. It could be included in your work report and affect your promotion.

It would be best if you gave at least two weeks’ notice before going on leave. If it is for medical reasons, you can provide the reports and prescriptions that you must be away for health reasons or because someone else in the family needs it. Providing adequate proof and good reasons will often sway the employer in your favor.

Also Read: What to Do Before Walking Out of Your Job? (& How to Explain it)


Employees may need to leave for several reasons, and unpaid time-offs can come in handy when they need to take care of some personal matters. Understanding the leave policies can help you make the most of your time.

Yes, since unpaid time-offs are not compensated, the employees also try to get back to work as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, keeping track of the leaves can help you avoid unnecessary cuts by not taking more leaves than you intended. Ask HR if you have any doubts, and you will be able to make good use of them.