HR Management & Compliance

What is Leave Sharing or Leave Donation?

Have you heard of a leave donation or leave sharing program? In this type of program, employers allow employees to donate some of their accrued paid leave time to other employees who have already used all of theirs but who need additional hours or days to cover an emergency.

Typically, in this type of program, the donated leave is placed into a leave bank. When another employee runs out of paid leave time but still needs time off, he or she can request or formally apply to use some of the leave available in the donated leave bank. Employers determine in advance what criteria must be met for an employee to be approved to take some of this leave and then apply those criteria to each applicant.

Why Have a Leave Donation Program?

There are benefits to having such a program. Not only does it allow goodwill between coworkers, it also can reduce turnover by finding ways to keep employees on board who have run into difficult times and run out of leave. This becomes possible without costing the company more money in terms of the total number of employee absences taken (in some cases). Overall, this can lead to improved morale, especially during times of medical or other emergencies in which the leave is needed.

Implementing a Leave Donation Program: Employer Considerations

While there are benefits to implementing such a program, it’s actually quite a bit more complex than it may seem on the surface. Here are some of the many things to consider before implementing a leave donation program:

  • There are IRS implications for both the donation and the receipt of this leave, and the exact details depend on how the program is set up. Employees should be sure to understand this. The recipient of the leave may owe taxes on it, for example, and if the program does not meet IRS guidelines, the employee who donates the leave may also have tax implications in some cases.
  • For taxation benefits, the program must be set up in such a way to meet IRS guidelines. If you’re considering setting up such a program, be sure to consult legal and/or tax guidance to ensure you’re setting up the program in such a way to meet the requirements. Generally speaking, these can be set up to allow employees to take extra leave in the case of medical emergencies or major disasters, but there are rules around each of these to qualify for special tax treatment.
  • States also have varying laws in terms of what types of leave can be donated to such a program. This relates to whether specific types of leave, such as sick days, are considered to be accrued or vested leave in your state. Be aware that using leave for this type of program may change that leave’s status in the eyes of the law, such as making it count as accrued or vested time, even if it would not have before. As such, be sure to look into state requirements before creating such a program, and look at the ramifications of using it across state lines. Consult legal counsel if necessary.
  • If you have any benefits that are dependent upon income levels, remember that the recipient’s income level may be affected.
  • This type of program could also add a risk of discrimination claims for the employer if the applications to use leave from the leave bank are not administered fairly and consistently.
  • Employers need to be aware of the cost implications. For example, if an employer has a “use it or lose it” policy, and an employee donates leave that would otherwise have been “lost,”  that amount will later need to be paid out—while if it had been lost, the company would have avoided that payout.
  • There are also cost implications if higher-paid employees take more of the donated leave time, thus increasing the cost of the day taken. (Assuming the leave was donated by an employee who has a lower salary than the one who takes it.)
  • Employers should take care to ensure that employees who donate leave still take enough time off work for their own purposes.

As you can see, these programs can be more complex to administer than they may seem at first glance. If you choose to implement such a program, be sure that there is administrative capacity to do so correctly.

Does your organization have a leave sharing or leave donation program? Is this something you would consider adding?

*This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.

About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.