How to Ask Your Boss for Emergency Time Off

Estimated reading time: 8 mins

There can be occasions when you will need some time off at work, even if your workplace has flexible timings. This emergency can be just a few hours, or much longer. By law in most countries, you are allowed reasonable emergency time off to take care of your dependents. Your employer might or might not pay for this leave. In this blog post, I will be discuss all that you need to know when asking your boss for emergency time off.

What are Emergency Situations?

Below is a list of situations that can be considered emergency. This is by no means, an exhaustive list and is just there as a reference:

  • Any mental or physical illness, injury or assault to you or a dependent.
  • Non-life threatening illnesses that might not require full time care.
  • Any existing conditions that have gotten worse.
  • If you are a single parent or a working mom and your child has been involved in an incident at school that requires you to be there immediately.
  • If you need time off to arrange care for longer-term for a dependent.
  • If your nanny or babysitter is sick or your child’s day nursery is closed.

How to Ask for Emergency Leave

It is important for you to tell your employer as soon as you find out that you need time off – even if you are not in the office at anymore You do not essentially have to tell them in writing or provide a proof of the emergency and all the formalities can wait for later. I understand that asking for a leave of absence from work can be very stressful, as it is usually for things like a medical procedure, mourning a death or taking maternity or paternity leaves.

You should not let your fears prevent you from taking the action to approach your boss. There needs to be a way to frame your request to avoid any kind of conflicts. It is best to do this face-to-face. It might not be a good idea to send a cold email or a plain SMS. Talking in person is just the kind of thing you need to show your boss the situation you are in and the urgency of the entire matter. In case you are a remote worker, you should try your best to ask in person and avoid only if it is logistically impossible.

The best use of an email in such a situation is as a follow up to agreed details of the leave. This is just to make sure that both parties are on the same page. Before you request time off, you should be fully aware of the employee protection laws in your country and through your employer policies. While I do not recommend that you start the important meeting by aggressively listing down your legal protections, it is essential to know your workplace rights to help you approach the conversation knowledgeably and negotiate the best available solution for both parties.

What is a Leave of Absence?

In some emergencies, you might need to ask your employer for extended period of time out of work. This is commonly referred to as ‘Leave of Absence’. There can be many acceptable reasons for you to take leave of absence, such as taking maternity leave. In many cases, you are also protected under the law. However, in other cases where you might need leave of absence, such as extended vacation, might be totally up to the discretion the employer. It is important to know your chances of getting approval before you plan to try. Depending on your situation and your tenure at a workplace, you may or may not continue to receive your salary and/or benefits. For example, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of the United States Department of Labor, the following reasons are eligible for time off:

  • Birth and/or care of baby.
  • Adoption of a child.
  • Care for a sick immediate family member such as spouse, parent or child.
  • Sick employee suffering from a serious health condition.

For example, in the United Kingdom, almost all employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. This is excluding emergency circumstances, in which employees are entitled to much longer time off on paid leaves.

Good and Bad Reasons to Take Leave Of Absence

Other than the ones discussed above, there can be good and bad reasons to request an extended leave. Below, we will discuss both.

  • Good Reasons. You might want to celebrate some happy occasions with time off work. For example, you might want leave of absence to finish graduate school, take extended honeymoon abroad or take a sabbatical. Likewise, there can be unhappy emergencies where you need time off from work, such as mourning the death of a friend, or having to complete all funeral arrangements for a relative. I remember a friend of mine had to take a couple of months’ emergency leave to take care of his sick child. In cases where a situation is not covered by legal protections, you might some good news in your employee handbook.
  • Bad Reasons. In all honesty, there are not many bad reasons for you to take a leave of absence. From a health emergency to taking time off during stress, all can be good reasons if you ask correctly. You might even apply for a leave of absence to go to a health rehab, but it would be a good idea to keep the real reason for the leave under wraps, calling it a medical treatment recommended by your general physician. In case you are choosing to take leave of absence without pay, you might want to reconsider as it might put huge dents on your savings. Try to request only the time off that is essential.

Sending Out the Perfect Emergency Leave Email

Applying for emergency leaves is usually considered hard by any employer, but any boss who values productivity of his or her organization understand that it is essential for an employee in distress to take care of an emergency to be fully dedicated at work. Without this, the employee might not be able to give his or her best at work as a result of the distractions s/he is facing. While taking leaves is every individual’s right, emergency leaves are a bit special in a way that they are not planned in advance and might lead to disruption at the workplace, including delays in important projects. Below are some of the important points that you need to follow when sending out an emergency leave email:

  • Always follow Company Policies. You should always follow your company policies when writing an emergency leave email. Some companies have generous leave policies for such circumstances, so doing it by the rules will just guarantee that you will face lesser challenged along the way. You may be required to include proof of emergency in the email.
  • Mention Duration of Your Leaves. Be very clear about the duration of leaves in your email. Mention when you expect your emergency leave to end. Never be indefinite and give an estimated period. In case you are not sure of when you will be returning, you should mention your intended date of return without being absolute about when you will be resuming work. You might want to say something like ‘I plan to return on XYZ’
  • State the Date of Commencement. State the starting date of your emergency leaves in the email. Just like your intended date of re-joining, you should also clearly mention the day you plan to commence your emergency leaves. There should be no room left for assumptions.
  • Delegate Responsibilities Properly. Make sure you put all necessary measures in place to ensure that the work will not suffer in your absence. Mention all measures that you have put in place in the email as you request your leave. Ensure that all necessary people are also made aware of the situation and the delegation of responsibilities in your absence.
  • The Subject Line Is Important. For most people writing an emergency leave email, the most difficult part is usually how to start the email. Once you figure out how to start your email, the body of your message becomes much easier. You could start your email by simply stating your need for leave and why. This will make the ‘leave’ and the ‘reason for leave’ the focus of your email.
  • Appealing to the Emotions. Depending on your situation, you might want to keep your leave request in the email at the end. This might work well with the emotions of your reader, as it will show that you are more concerned about your emergency and how your company will cope with your absence and less about how many days you want off. Then again, if you have already had a meeting with your boss on the matter, you might want to cut to the chase and mention the important details first.

Whatever you do, understand that your boss is also human and s/he will understand all your reasonable requests. If you have been a valuable employee, chances are that your employer will give you enough relaxation for you to address your emergency. Have you ever had difficulties applying for an emergency leave? What was the emergency? Was your employer fair with you? Do share your experiences in the comments below. Do also check my other, hugely liked blog post on How to Ask your Boss if you Can Leave Work Early – Like a Pro.

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