The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Babies, sabbaticals and more: How to cope financially during an extended leave from work

  • Print

PORTLAND, Ore. - Workers are human. That means sometimes they have needs that take them away from work for extended periods of time. Babies, illnesses and even sabbaticals can mean a long time away from a job and a paycheque, too.

So how can you cope financially if you take an extended leave? According to most experts, it's a tricky balance of preparation and innovation.

There are some departures that are anticipated — a sabbatical is typically planned ahead of time, and a baby affords about nine months to plan. But there are many situations that are not expected, such as the illness of a family member or yourself.

Regardless of your situation, here are a few things to consider if you take a temporary departure:


The first thing you can do is find out what benefits are afforded to you under the law or your company's policies.

In many cases you will encounter the Family and Medical Leave Act. This is a federal law that guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected leave during any 12-month period for an employee's serious medical condition or to care for a parent, spouse or child.

Employees retain their benefits during this time. They are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end.

There are caveats. FMLA applies only if you work at a public agency or company with 50 or more employees. You also must have been employed there at least a year and worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before your leave.

Federal law does not require FMLA leave to be paid, but the Society for Human Resource Management's 2013 Employee Benefits Survey found that 21 per cent of organizations did offer paid family leave. Additionally, 26 per cent of organizations offered family leave above FMLA's requirements.

Some states also have employer requirements that go beyond FMLA's terms.

Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at SHRM, points out that this means in some states employees can take time off to care for an aunt or other relative that may not be covered under federal law.

You should also investigate if you qualify for short-term disability pay or can use sick or vacation pay during your absence. Some companies also allow people to borrow ahead on vacation time that they haven't earned yet.


It seems obvious, but setting money aside ahead of time can pay off later.

A number of experts, like Nancy Bearg, co-author of the book "Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break," suggest creating a new account or slush fund that is dedicated solely for your time off.

Don't touch this account until you are on leave. And as you lead up to your departure, take time to really consider your needs versus your wants and trim wherever possible to set aside extra cash.

One helpful hint is to ask yourself when you are looking at a discretionary item like a new pair of shoes, "Do I want this or would I rather have money for (your goal — Italy, the baby or extra time with my ill mother)?"

Again and again, experts cautioned against using retirement savings, because the penalties and tax consequences rarely make it worth it.


Cut costs wherever you can — cancel cable, club memberships or other recurring costs that you might not even use during leave. Sell extra items around the house for cash. And if possible, pay down debts beforehand so you have one less expense to manage, Bearg suggests.

Saving doesn't stop there. You can cut expenses while you are out, too.

If you are on travelling during your leave, consider renting out your place to save on housing costs. Sell your car or store it, and adjust insurance accordingly to save.

Don't forget to leave a cushion in your savings, in case the break is longer than expected or some other expense arises. Make sure to factor in the costs for continuing your health insurance into your budget as well.

While on leave, spend only on the things that matter most. You may also want to look into opportunities to make cash while you are out, if your job allows. This could include babysitting another child if you are already home with your own or teaching English overseas if you are travelling.


Taxes may be the last thing on your mind, but there are some benefits to consider.

Some employers offer flexible spending accounts, which allow employees to put cash aside pre-tax to help cover medical costs. Tapping this could help lower your costs.

There are similar accounts you can set up for dependent care costs, such as for elder care or childcare. This may help ease some of the sting from expenses either during your leave or upon your return.

And if your living situation has dramatically changed, such as the addition of another dependent or major disability, you may want to speak to a tax professional about what expenses you can deduct on your taxes in the future.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Glenn January won't blame offensive line for first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young goose   reaches for long strands of grass Friday night near McGillvary Blvd-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 19 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google