Explore Paid and Unpaid Leave (With Definition and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Taking a leave of absence from a job may be necessary because of a planned or unexpected situation that requires your attention. Labour laws may require an organisation to provide specific kinds of paid or unpaid leave for employees. Knowing the different types of leaves can help you plan time off, recover from an illness and provide information for an employer to grant your request. In this article, we explore the different types of paid and unpaid leave, including their definition and examples, with steps you can take to request them.

What is paid and unpaid leave?

Below are the definitions of paid and unpaid leave:

Paid leave

A paid leave of absence is essentially the time off from work that you request while you continue to receive your regular salary. As of February 2022, under Hong Kong's Employment Ordinance, Cap. 57, there are specific mandatory leaves that employers provide. These include rest days, annual leave, sickness allowance, maternity and paternity leave. The law mandates a company to provide a minimum number of days for the different kinds of paid leave. Employers may choose to offer more than the mandated minimum and even provide other types of annual leave benefits.

Unpaid leave

A leave of absence your employer approves that your salary may not cover constitutes unpaid leave. It's possible that you may exhaust the leave that you accrued over the course of a year, in which case you may request unpaid leave. You may still retain your status as an employee and continue to receive other benefits except for compensation. In cases where you may require a long period of time off, you may discuss your situation with your supervisor and HR.

Examples of unpaid leave

Below are a few examples of unpaid leave:

Unpaid leave of absence

You may request an unpaid leave of absence as a result of exhausting all of your paid leave. This may include using up all of your annual leave, sick leave or exceeding the maximum days given for parental leave. You typically don't receive compensation for unpaid leave. If you request unpaid leave after exhausting your limit of paid leaves, your employer may request a meeting to understand the nature of your leave request.


A sabbatical is a long break from work, which you may use for vacation, learning something new, pursuing other projects or conducting research. Sabbaticals are common in academic settings where employees may elect to take a break for long periods of time between 6 and 18 months for undertaking research. Sabbaticals are becoming popular with non-educational organisations that allow employees to take time off from several months up to a year, where they can pursue other interests. As sabbaticals are long-term, they're usually unpaid.

Related: What Is a Sabbatical? Common Questions and Answers

Examples of paid leave

Here are some examples of paid leave:

Annual leave

Employees may take and accrue annual leave over the course of the year. Companies may offer more than the mandatory minimum leaves for a given year and may require advance notice from an employee to approve, ensuring that there's no disruption to work. Many companies allow employees to carry over unused annual leave into the next year of their employment with a limitation on the number of leaves they can carry over. An employee may use their annual leaves for a holiday or attend to personal matters.

Related: How to Write an Annual Leave Request Email in 6 Steps

Parental leave

Parental leave is split between maternity and paternity leave and affords employees time off to manage the process of becoming parents. Maternity leave allows female employees to request time off for a minimum of 14 weeks to manage their pregnancy, which includes prenatal and postnatal medical checks. Paternity leaves may be shorter than maternity leaves but guarantees a minimum of five days. Companies may offer more than the mandatory minimum for parental leaves to employees and typically request documentation through written statements and medical certificates.

Compassionate leave

Also known as bereavement leave, compassionate leave is a type of leave that employees can take if they experience the loss of an immediate family member. This may include parents, children, spouses and siblings. Many companies provide this type of leave to give an employee time to make arrangements and come to terms with their loss. While there's no mandate on the minimum number of days, a company may define their own policy for compassionate leave to display sensitivity and provide assistance for a grieving employee.

Sick leave

Sick leave entitles an employee to take time off to recover from an illness. If a severe illness requires extensive medical attention or hospitalisation, an employee usually presents a medical certificate to support their leave request. The minimum number of sick leaves per month is two days for the first 12 months of employment, then four days thereafter. A company may choose to provide more than the minimum number of sick leaves per month or year.

As of February 2022, under Hong Kong's Employment Ordinance, Cap. 57, sick leaves fall into two categories. The first category allows up to 36 days of sick leave, with the employee providing a medical certificate. If the number of days exceeds 36 days, it falls under the second category with a maximum of 84 days of sick leave, which requires an employee to submit medical certificates and documentation providing a description of the medical investigation and treatment the employee has or is receiving.

Statutory holidays

Statutory holidays or public holidays are mandatory time off for employees across all industries. The government annually publishes a list of holidays for the public and organisations to observe. In some cases, an employer may request an employee to work on a statutory holiday, which requires providing the employee with at least 48 hours' notice. For such cases, a company arranges a compensatory holiday within 60 days before or after the statutory holiday in agreement with their employee.

Rest days

A rest day is one day of the week when an employee doesn't work for their employer. As of February 2022, the maximum number of working days under Hong Kong's Employment Ordinance, Cap. 57, is 6 days. Some jobs may require employees to work irregular hours and days for which an employer typically provides a compensatory rest day in prior agreement with the employee.

Annual leave shutdown

Some companies may sometimes close their business because of seasonal holidays. In such instances, they may provide a month's notice to employees. Employees who've accrued annual leave after working for 12 months may automatically use their annual leaves during the shutdown, whereas employees who don't have annual leave can still avail of leave during the shutdown.

How to request leave from work

Below are the steps you can take to request leave from work:

1. Check the company's leave policy

Before you consider submitting a request for a leave of absence, familiarise yourself with the company's leave policy. As of February 2022, companies have a legal obligation to follow labour laws concerning specific leaves such as annual leave, sick leave and parental leave.

Other types of leave policies may differ from one company to another, including the manner in which you submit a request, such as through an HR website portal or through email. You may also check the number of leaves available to you before making your request so that you may plan accordingly.

2. Prepare all pertinent information

Depending on the type of leave that you plan to request, gather all the necessary information that can support your request for leave. If you're planning a vacation, plan your dates in advance and provide them to your supervisor or HR for approval. If you're sick and unable to commute to work, you may inform them by providing medical documentation regarding your illness. Some types of leave, such as parental leave for a newborn child or prenatal care, may require documentation as a matter of compliance.

3. Address your leave request

The usual starting point for requesting a leave of absence begins with your supervisor. Depending on your working relationship with them and the nature of your workplace, you may either speak with them directly or formally address it over email. Provide all the information to your supervisor so that they can approve your request. In some cases, your supervisor may request you to defer your leave to another date, in which case you may consider demonstrating flexibility or speaking with them if you aren't able to do so.

Related: How to Apply for Leave at an Office (With Example)

4. Follow up with your supervisor or HR

After speaking with your supervisor and completing your company's leave request process, you may follow up with your supervisor or HR. It's possible that your supervisor or HR may request further information or documentation if necessary. Once they approve your leave request, thank them either in person or over email as a professional courtesy.

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