Every once in a while, a life event occurs that necessitates taking more time off from work than we’ve already earned from our employers. During the interview process, an interviewee may have pre-existing plans, such as weddings or paid-for vacations that can’t be postponed. Should they receive the job offer, they may need to negotiate unearned time-off before they can accept the job. Whether you’re an existing employee or a candidate negotiating your offer, finding a way to ask for the additional time off without risking your employment status can be a challenge. Ultimately, a successful outcome may depend upon your position, your tenure with the company, the reason for your planned absence, and the way you approach your manager.
If you have a life event that requires you to be away from your job for longer than you have accrued paid time off, you’ll need to negotiate with your employer for a solution that will serve your needs – and theirs.
Before you begin negotiating with your current or future employer for more time off, assess your situation and know the answer to these 5 questions:
- Is your leave protected by law?
- Do you understand the risks?
- Do you know your value?
- Are you clear what you’re asking for?
- Is the timing right?
#1 Is your leave protected by law?
Under certain circumstances, you will not need to negotiate for time off, as some absences are protected through government regulations. For instance, the Federal Family Medical Leave Act ensures that employees are granted 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave due to a number of family and medical reasons.
Other federally protected leaves include:
- Military family leave
- Jury duty leave
- Military service leave
- Family medical leave
In addition, many states require employers to offer unpaid, job-protected leaves. Some commonly protected leaves include:
- Victim leave
- Parental leave
- Maternity leave
- Paternity leave
- Vacation leave
- Sick leave
- Funeral/bereavement leave
- Holidays/religious observances leave
Be aware that leave laws and protections vary greatly from state to state. Know what you’re entitled to by law, and what the company’s policies are before you approach your manager to request time off.
#2 Do you understand the risks?
Before you request time off and plan to be away from your job for an extended period of time, you’ll want to analyze the risks of spending time away from your position. Especially if you’re asking for unpaid time off that is not protected by the many different leave of absence laws. If your leave isn’t protected and you’re out for an extended period of time, your employer could be forced to replace you to ensure work continues.
Be sure you have a clear understanding with your employer, and an agreement that your job is secure during your absence. Avoid demanding the time off without considering the impact on your employer’s business, and planning ways to mitigate the impact of your time away. If you can work with team members to cover parts of your job, complete projects before you leave, or even negotiate having a temporary employee brought in to cover your absence your employer will appreciate your consideration of company needs. On the other hand, if you demand time off with no consideration for the business, your employer may acquiesce to your demands before you leave, but there are no guarantees your job will be there when you return – with the exception of a protected leave of absence.
#3 Have you assessed your value?
Do you understand the value you bring to the organization where you work, or where you are planning to work? Are you sure your assessment is accurate? Be cautious not to overestimate your value. As an interviewee, base your value assessment on the actual feedback you’ve received from managers and team members, or during your interview process. You may also base your value assessment on the relationships you’ve established with upper management.
In one instance, I knew of an employee who was very senior within the organization and highly valued. He fully understood his value within the organization, and the impact he would have on the organization by taking time off. Because he had a close relationship with the owner of the company, he was able to successfully negotiate extended time off. He scheduled time away from the office to have lunch with his boss and was very honest with him. He explained he was burnt out and needed to take time off to regenerate. He asked for two months off and was willing to take the time unpaid. He was granted this request. Since he was highly valued, the company may have decided it was better to let him be away for two months than to lose him altogether.
While most people do not enjoy such a personal connection to the decision makers at their companies, think about how you can use the relationships you do have to negotiate in your favor.
#4 Have you planned for success?
Whether you’re negotiating for a new job, or need time off at your existing job to cover plans, you may have to take the time without pay. Be sure you know exactly how much unpaid time you’ll need, how much paid time off you’ve already accrued, and whether or not you can use your sick leave time to help cover your request. In addition, some companies may allow you to take a portion of your vacation before it is accrued. Be sure to check the company’s policies in advance.
As a reminder, if you’re planning to take additional time off, your employer may have concerns about how your work will be completed in your absence and the impact of your leave on co-workers. Be prepared to answer these objections up front and have a plan in place to cover your workload. Communicate with your co-workers before talking to your manager to get their agreement about how they can support you and cover for you while you’re gone. Be prepared to return the favor in kind, once you return.
While you may be focused on the events that have prompted your need to take time off, your employer is focused on the business and won’t want the work to stop while you’re gone. In addition to making a plan for your absence, you will probably want to develop a Plan B for yourself, in case your employer denies your request.
Some alternatives to time away without pay may include:
- Shortening the amount of time you’ll be away
- Agree to be available to work on call
- Agree to work a set number of hours each day, or each week, to address urgent issues
#5 Is the timing right?
You’ve been looking for a job for some time. You’re also preparing for a big life event, like getting married, or finally taking the honeymoon that you originally postponed due to other obligations. At the same time, you finally get the job offer you’ve been waiting for. Although the timing isn’t optimal, you probably don’t want to have to choose one major milestone over another.
If you’re negotiating for time off before you even begin work, my advice is to wait until you’re at the point of discussing a potential job offer to let the company know about your upcoming plans and need for time off. I know a candidate who negotiated a flexible schedule as part of his final offer. The employer allowed him to work an adjusted schedule for his first two months with the company followed by a few weeks of unpaid time. In this instance, he negotiated working four 10-hour days per week for two months followed by two weeks off, unpaid, for a wedding and honeymoon. The arrangement allowed him to accept the job offer and demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the company’s needs as well as his own.
Sometimes, life events pop up when we simply don’t have enough paid time off to accommodate the time needed. Often, the success of your negotiation for extra time off really has more to do with timing of the request, than with the reasons for the request. For instance, if you’re a job candidate and the company you’re negotiating with really wants to hire you for a specific, hard-to-find skillset, you may find it easy to negotiate three weeks off in June for your upcoming wedding and honeymoon. As an employee, maybe you’re in the slow season and being away wont impact the business to as great a degree as asking for time off, for example, right before the holiday rush.
Whatever your situation, knowing your rights, having a plan to address possible objections that may arise, and knowing your negotiating power will help you to navigate the challenges of getting the time off you need to take care of the events in your personal life without losing your job.
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