Employee leave in Nigeria: Frequently asked questions

20 February 2024 6 min read

By Olufunmilola Oyinkansola Binuyo

At a glance

  • In Nigeria, the employment laws allow employees to take leave to recuperate from work and attend to personal matters.
  • Statutorily and contractually, employees in Nigeria can take annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, study leave, casual/compassionate leave, etc.
  • Paternity leave is gaining recognition in both the private and public sectors in Nigeria. The Federal Government of Nigeria has approved paternity leave for male employees in the civil service.
  • Leave is not automatic and is usually subject to internal policies of the employer and the employment terms of the employee.

What is leave?

Leave refers to the duration of time an employee takes off from work for reasons such as rest, relaxation, attending to personal matters, etc, with the employer's knowledge and approval. It included the overall number of days each employee or worker is entitled to be absent from work, excluding statutory holidays.

What are the types of leave that employees or workers are statutorily entitled to in Nigeria?

The Nigerian Labour Act (Act), which applies mainly to unskilled workers, provides for different types of leave for employees. Leave includes annual leave, sick leave, and maternity leave. Given that they are provided by law, they are often referred to as statutory leave. This statutory leave has also been adopted for employees who are not covered by the Act. The Act provides for:

  • at least six days of paid annual leave after 12 months of continuous service;
  • up to 12 working days of paid sick leave within a calendar year; and
  • a three-month period of maternity leave in which the employer is required to pay the employee no less than 50% of their salary. Maternity leave is only applicable to female employees.

Are there other types of leave that an employee can take in Nigeria?

Yes. Other circumstances in which an employee may require leave include, leave related to study, family issues, medical reasons, emergencies, etc. Employers in Nigeria understand the intricacies of work and family life. Therefore, as well as statutory leave, other types of leave that are recognised by employers include study leave, family leave, casual/compassionate leave, paternity leave, relief leave, etc. These extra leave entitlements are however subject to contract and each employer’s internal policies.  

Do all employees have the same leave benefits in Nigeria?

No. Leave benefits vary widely depending on the policies of the employer, the practice in the given industry in which the employee is employed, Collective Bargaining Agreements, employment terms and conditions, the level of the employee, and other considerations. For example, while some employees are entitled to ten working days of annual leave per year, others are entitled to as many as 30 working days. Also, some employers do not recognise paternity leave, study leave, leave of absence, etc. In this situation, male employees utilise their annual leave as paternity leave and employees who intend to take study leave either use their annual leave or resign in case of extended study period and there is no provision for leave of absence in the company. Therefore, there is no uniformity for leave rights of employees. The most important consideration is that the laid down statutory provisions and applicable terms of employment are complied with for employees covered by the Act and others respectively.

Are male employees entitled to paternity leave in Nigeria?

There is currently no statutory provision for paternity leave in Nigeria. However, there is a growing recognition worldwide for male employees to take paternity leave to support their partners before, during or after the birth of their child. In Nigeria, many organisations have recognised the need for their male employees to take paternity leave subject to their own terms and conditions of employment. Male civil servants in the public sector are entitled to 14 days of paternity leave as approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2021.

Can a female employee extend her maternity leave beyond what is allowed statutorily or by contract?

Yes. A female employee may request for an extension of her maternity leave beyond what has been allowed by the employer for different reasons including serious medical conditions, ill health of baby, etc. The employer will consider each case and decide whether to grant the extended leave based on the circumstances. The employer may also decide to continue to pay the full salary of the employee or reduce same for the additional months taken.

Can a female employee take maternity leave and annual leave within the same year?

The Act provides for annual leave and maternity leave separately and does not specify whether the annual leave will be consumed by maternity leave within the same year. The practice in Nigeria for employees covered by the Act and others on this issue vary from one organisation to the other. Some organisations have policies that employees cannot take maternity leave and annual leave within the same year. Other organisations allow their employees to take both maternity leave and annual leave within the same year or carry over their annual leave to the following year. Therefore, the position on this matter is mainly subject to each organisation’s company policy and the specific situation/requirements of the employee.

Can employers deny leave requests? If so, under what circumstances?

Employers may deny leave requests under certain circumstances, such as when the timing of the request disrupts business operations or when employees do not meet the eligibility criteria or for non-compliance with the leave policy. Usually, the leave policy of an employer would indicate eligibility for leave, approval process, number of days, approval subject to company operations, etc. Therefore, a leave request may be denied if the employee’s absence from work will disrupt the business operations of the employer, or the employee is not yet eligible for leave or for other non-compliance issues. In the first scenario, the employee will be allowed to embark on the leave at a subsequent period. In the second and third scenarios, the employee’s application for leave will not be approved until the employee becomes eligible for leave or until the non-compliance is addressed. Employers should typically provide valid reasons for denial of leave applications. This is important to avoid allegations of unfairness, bias, bullying, etc.

Can an employee receive monetary compensation for unused leave days during the year?

The Act prohibits an employer from paying wages in lieu of required holidays and leave. However, there is an exception to this general rule. If the employment is terminated after the leave has accrued, then the employer can pay the employee for the unused leave days. For other employees not covered by the Act, payment for unused leave is not generally encouraged.

Can an employee carry over unused leave to the next year? If so, are there any limitations?

The carryover of unused leave to the next year varies by employer policies on leave. Some employers allow it, while others may have limitations on the number of days that can be carried over or may not permit leave days to be carried over. There is no general position on this and will be subject to internal policies of the employer and consideration on a case-by-case basis. Employees are generally advised to take their leave during each leave year to rest and recuperate.

Is leave allowance compulsory in Nigeria?

The Act does not provide for leave allowance. This is subject to the terms of contract of employment and internal policies of the employer. Some employers include the ‘leave allowance’ as part of the monthly renumeration of the employee while others pay it separately when the leave is taken. The payment of leave allowance is on a contractual basis.