Policy 39 – Leaves of Absence for Staff Members

The policies found on the website of the Secretariat are compulsory rules for the university community. The authoritative copies of the policies are held by the Secretariat and bear the seal of the university. The online version accessible through the website of the Secretariat is available for information purposes only. In case of discrepancy between the online version and the authoritative copy held by the Secretariat , the authoritative copy shall prevail. Please contact the Secretariat for assistance if necessary.


20 December 1972


28 October 2013. Type of revision: Housekeeping


28 February 2020. Amended, official titles only.





Responsible/originating Department:

Human Resources

Executive contact:

Associate Provost, Human Resources

Related policies, guidelines and procedures:

  1. Policy 3 - Sabbatical and Other Leaves for Faculty Members (Appendix A – University of Waterloo Guidelines re: “Political Leaves”)
  2. Policy 6 – Vacation – Staff
  3. Policy 14 – Pregnancy and Parental Leaves (including Adoption), and the Return to Work
  4. Policy 54 – Definition of Staff
  5. Policy 59 – Reduced Workload to Retirement

Should university policy determining cost‑sharing arrangements change, or should government or university benefits change during a leave of absence, these changes will apply accordingly.

1. Paid study leaves of absence

The university recognizes that it may be of benefit to the institution, as well as to staff members, to grant study leaves. Study leaves may be granted with full or partial salary. For the purposes of this policy, a study leave is defined as a leave of longer duration than the usual conference or short course, which may be attended by a staff member with the approval of her/his department head.

Due to the diversity of potential requests and the variable circumstances that can occur in the department or group concerned, no attempt is made in this policy to provide any detailed guidelines for the granting of requests for paid study leave. Requests will be judged on the ultimate benefit to the university.

A staff member who wishes to request a paid study leave should do so in writing to her/his immediate supervisor; recommendations are required from each level of supervision. Although it is understood that the granting of study leaves must be a matter of judgment in individual cases, Human Resources will maintain a cumulative record of prior decisions and will offer guidance to supervisors so as to assure consistent treatment of staff members in all sectors of the university.

The Vice‑President, Academic & Provost must give final approval to the terms and conditions of the paid study leave.

2. Unpaid leaves of absence

A staff member may request approval for an unpaid leave of absence. There must be an expectation that the staff member will return to the university at the end of the requested unpaid leave.  Normally, the duration of the leave will not exceed 12 months.  Pension and benefits implications should be reviewed with Human Resources before an unpaid leave of absence is requested.

A. Approvals

Approvals for unpaid leaves are at the discretion of the Department Head who, in making the decision, takes into account various factors, including the merits of the case, whether the position can be adequately filled in the staff member's absence, and the effect on the organization.  Leaves in excess of four calendar months must also be approved by the appropriate senior administrative officer (e.g., Dean, Associate Provost). In all cases, copies of written approvals must be given to Human Resources.

Similarly, approval (as noted above) is required if a staff member wants to return to full‑time employment before the expiration of her/his leave. However, the university has the right to require a return to full‑time employment with the provision of at least three months’ written notice.

B. Group benefits

A staff member must continue benefits coverage (Extended Health Care, Dental, Group Life Insurance, Long Term Disability) during the unpaid leave of absence, unless equivalent coverage elsewhere can be demonstrated; in such cases, a waiver of participation must be signed. Post‑dated cheques to cover the portion of premiums paid by the staff member must be provided to Human Resources prior to the beginning of the leave.

C. Pension

Pension at retirement will be reduced because of loss of service during an unpaid leave unless the staff member makes arrangements to maintain pension contributions based on full nominal salary. Revenue Canada limits* apply. Contact Human Resources for information.

*Legislation allows an employee to earn up to five years of pension credit (plus three years for pregnancy leaves) for periods of reduced pay or temporary absences. This applies to any situation following 1 January 1992, in which an employee contributes to the University of Waterloo Pension Plan at nominal salary and actual salary received is a lower amount. Because sabbatical, unpaid leaves and layoffs are included in this calculation, pension treatment for reduced loads may be affected.

D. Vacation

During an unpaid leave of absence or layoff in excess of ten working days (consecutive or accumulative, including partial unpaid leaves), the amount of vacation credit earned for that vacation year will be reduced proportionately. Service is not affected.

3. Self-funded leaves of absence

Approved unpaid leaves of six months to one year may be self‑funded through a deferred salary leave agreement signed with the university.  Interested staff members must consult the benefits section of Human Resources.  Such an agreement would include the following:

Time:  Salary is deferred over a three‑ to six‑year period (according to the percentages outlined in Appendix A). The staff member must return to work after the leave of absence for a period of time not less than her/his leave of absence.

Deferred Salary: The university deposits the deferred salary into an account that accrues interest during the period of deferral.

Income Tax: During the years of salary deferral, income tax is payable on the actual salary received and also on the interest accrued on the deferred salary. During the leave itself, income tax is payable on the accumulated deferred salary.

Pension:  Subject to Revenue Canada limits (see section 2.C), pension during the years of salary deferral, and the leave itself, is based on nominal salary (i.e., the base salary received had salary deferral not been made).

Benefits:  Benefits will continue during the years of salary deferral and the leave itself. Detailed information is available from Human Resources.

Cancellation:  Salary deferral and/or leave cancellation occurs on termination of employment, death or disability. The deferred salary plus interest accrued is paid to the staff member, beneficiary or estate, subject to tax regulations.

Withdrawal or Postponement: Withdrawal from or postponement of an approved leave for reasons other than termination of employment, death or disability, requires the written approval of the Vice‑President, Academic & Provost at least six months before the scheduled leave whether the change is initiated by the university or the staff member.

Appendix A 

Self-funded leaves of absence through a deferred salary leave agreement

Duration of salary deferral

Extent of leave

Percentage of nominal salary deferrable

3, 4, 5 or 6 years

6 months to 1 year *

maximum of 33 1/3%**

* The minimum leave can be as little as three months if the staff member is enrolled full time at a school on the Canada Customs & Revenue Agency list of designated educational institutions.

** Decision on percentage deferred depends on two factors: (1) income required during years of salary deferral; (2) income required during leave itself.