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How to Explain Time Off in the Workplace

by Melissa Small
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There are many possible reasons for you to have to take some time away from work, which then leads to a gap in your resume. You could have had an extended illness, a permanent disability that required some time off, you could have needed to take mental health leave, or time off to take care of a sick parent or child.

Unfortunately, these gap times often require explanations either to your current employer, or to your potential employer perusing your resume during an interview.

Here are some helpful tips for how to explain an extended leave to your boss and coworkers, and how to properly navigate the topic on your resume.

Explaining time off to your boss and coworkers:

1) Know the Sick Day Process – Know who you have to notify or how to call/email in sick when needed. Don’t rely on a coworker to relay the message on your behalf.

2) Be Honest and Upfront – Let them know about your situation and your needs. This may be difficult to imagine doing, but it may help to rehearse what you would like to say, and approach people one on one or even via email rather than trying to bring up the conversation in a team meeting.

3) Give Notice – People are more willing to be accommodating in revising their expectations of you if you are able to not only be honest, but tell them what’s going on as far in advance as possible. That way they won’t grow frustrated with you or wonder where you are.

4) Prioritize Work Time as Much as Possible – If possible, try to plan doctors’ appointments and other unavoidable things for the beginning or end of the day instead of the middle, to minimize the amount of hours off you need for the day.


Explaining time off effectively on your resume:

Service Canada is one of the driving forces behind reducing the stigma of having “gaps” in your resume experience. We have options for individuals to have paid compassionate care leaves from their employer, hopefully for short periods before returning to work, but unfortunately sometimes they last longer.

When filling the gaps in your resume, think about what you spent that time doing and how you could rework those experiences into skills that an employer may be looking for. Keep it factual and list it as a “professional experience”.

Here are some examples of how to phrase time off for caring for a sick family member, travelling the world and taking mental health time off respectively:


Caregiver, Independent, City, Ontario 2016-2017

Addressed the physical and emotional needs of a family member who required intensive care until arrangements for long-term care opportunities became available

World-Class Traveler May 2016- September 2016

Took some time for self-reflection and care after many committed years in the workforce to expose myself to other cultures and traditions

Personal Leave 2018-2019

Resolved some personal commitments that impacted my availability to work and started working towards upgrading and finessing my skills to prepare myself to rejoin the workforce