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Administrative Leave 101: Everything You Need To Know

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Table Of Contents

You walk in to work one day, and your HR team tells you that you’ve been placed on administrative leave. What do you do now? 

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a comprehensive guide to helping you understand the definition of administrative leave, how it differs from other types of leave, and what to do if you’re placed on it.

What is the purpose of administrative leave?

Well, for starters, it’s generally not very fun. It’s also not a paid vacation — far from it. 

Administrative leave is a way to remove an employee from the business operations at their place of employment. Employees are asked to remain at home during regular work hours but continue to receive regular pay and benefits. In some cases, this can be due to allegations of criminal acts or wrongdoing. It can also be due to allegations that the person poses a threat to public safety. 

Other situations, for example, could cause someone to need to take time off work due to emotional distress if they experienced something traumatic at work, like a hostage situation or a fire. Perhaps there was an internal crime and the business wishes to put anyone involved on leave temporarily to protect sensitive information regarding the investigation. Perhaps there is a more positive reason. From anything like an employee taking college courses for their job to serving in the military. All of these could lead to administrative leave.

When does one take it?

So in layman’s terms, administrative leave is a temporary suspension of employment but with standard benefits and pay intact. In general, administrative leave is reserved for employees of non-profit organizations such as schools, police departments, and hospitals. These are some examples of popular reasons for placing an employee on administrative leave:

  • In case of emergencies
  • Internal investigation of employee misconduct
  • Educational purposes
  • A military leave of absence
  • In order to protect sensitive information

While there is no clear definition of administrative leave in the dictionary, it is typically used to describe a temporary absence from work. This can be modified according to the needs of your business. There is no one universal definition or parameter for this type of leave. 

After all, administrative leave is not necessarily a punishment. Rather, it is an action to protect the health and safety of the other employees, along with the integrity of your business.

Both employers and employees can benefit from paid administrative leaves as long as they adhere to protocol and federal and state laws. Some states, such as California, require employers to pay for at least three days of sick time per year. However, if an employer provides more paid days off for sick leave, employees can carry over those days into the following year. Paid admin leaves should not be confused with paid sick leave, which is a certain number of days an employee can take off for illness.

Can I get fired while on administrative leave?

The answer is yes — but with a few strings attached. 

Getting fired is only possible if you’ve been fired for a valid business reason or for a violation of your employment contract. While the laws governing this are the same in every state, there are some variations based on where you live.

Administrative leave is a common safety mechanism used by human resources to separate a suspect from other employees during an investigation. Employees are not employed at will, so they may not be fired based on unsubstantiated allegations. In order to avoid liability for wrongful termination, an employer must have reasonable grounds to suspect misconduct to place an employee on administrative leave.

How long does it last?

Administrative leave does not have a set duration of time. It could be days, months, or weeks. 

The length usually depends on the situation. Employees who are subject to an investigation will be required to fully comply and participate in the investigation. The employee should remain at home during working hours and be prepared to return to work whenever notified.

A few things to consider

There are a couple of things you (and your HR team) need to keep in mind while designing an administrative leave policy. 

When used properly, an administrative leave can be a valuable tool because it can provide employers with the time and resources necessary to follow legally required procedures, thereby reducing their exposure to liability. 

However, there are a number of considerations employers need to keep in mind prior to placing an employee on administrative leave. 

Determine the necessity

If you want to place an employee on administrative leave, it’s crucial to base that decision on a sound rationale. Like, to protect the health and safety of other employees or the integrity of the business. So long as your decision is tied to a legitimate business purpose, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Otherwise, you may have a difficult time proving the veracity of your decision.

Pay the employee

Maintain all forms of the employee’s remuneration during the leave period to ensure the employee remains “whole.” On the other hand, failure to pay an employee during a leave of absence will likely be viewed as disciplinary. It will weigh heavily in favor of the conclusion of constructive dismissal, which should be avoided at all costs.

Reserve your judgment

When on leave, try not to prejudge the outcome or take any actions that suggest termination is a foregone conclusion. Any step that suggests the employer has already terminated the employment relationship, including advertising to fill the employee’s position, issuing a record of employment, etc. should be avoided.

Maintain employee confidentiality

Avoid discussing publicly, or suggesting to others at work, that the employee has been fired or will be fired during the leave period. It’s simple: don’t share information with anyone who doesn’t need to know it.

Be quick on your feet

Don’t drag your feet when you’re deciding whether someone is guilty. Make a decision quickly. If a decision needs to be made, take the time to do so. But once you make a decision, act quickly. It is important that you, as employers, carefully consider the consequences of placing employees on leave. An incorrect or casual approach can result in negative legal ramifications for your business. This includes claims of constructive dismissal as well as wrongful and retaliatory termination of employment.

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Snigdha Gupta
Snigdha Gupta

An avid writer and aspiring marketer, Snigdha is a student at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business.

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