How to Explain a Voluntary Leave of Absence Due to COVID-19

People in motion

I recently read about mass staff resignations and leaves of absence in a New York school district.

Ninety staff members took a leave of absence and 111 staff members resigned due to COVID-19. The impact was so serious that the district delayed the start of the online-only learning program scheduled to kick off the school year. And that isn’t the only example of employees who have quit or are thinking of quitting their jobs.

Maybe they’re stressed from working and homeschooling their kids; maybe they don’t feel safe because they have to work on-site; the reasons are many. But what they’ll eventually have to deal with is the same: How to address the situation when interviewing down the road.

“Countless job seekers have voluntarily left their jobs during the pandemic due to concerns over contracting COVID-19 or pandemic-induced stress,” says Kelly Phelan, a career coach with Winning Six Second Resumes. “The Center for Disease Control includes a page on their website about dealing with stress during pandemics, and medical experts have verified ‘coronasomnia’ is a growing public health concern.”

The good news, Phelan says, is that prospective employers are being exceptionally understanding.

“As we’ve heard the media say countless times over the last few months, ‘These are unprecedented times.’ The same applies to the job market,” she explains. “Recruiters have seen firsthand how uncertainty is impacting workers and they are being more forgiving than ever before.”

That doesn’t mean prospective employers won’t dig to discover details about lapses in a resume. That’s why it will be important — whenever the new job search gets underway — to be ready to address the question, “Why did you leave your previous job?”

The key is to be open and honest when explaining exactly why you took the time off.

“For anyone who didn’t have the option to work from home, it is reasonable to explain they left their previous position to fulfill family obligations,” Phelan says. “Chances are the recruiter may also have dealt with homeschooling and have sympathy for the situation. However, candidates should be prepared to explain how they would handle a future lockdown or quarantine situation if the job they are applying for would not allow for flexible work-from-home options.”

She suggests tackling any question about a voluntarily resignation or leave of absence something like this:

“In my previous position as a grocery store clerk, I was in close contact with several hundred people every day. It was impossible to properly social distance and I have a young family at home. To protect myself and my family, it made sense to resign and look for something where my health would be better protected. I’m applying for this position because I am confident that I meet the job requirements and this job meets my desire to maintain reasonable social distancing in the workplace.”

With so much to worry about these days, the way a future employer will react to a pandemic-related hole in your resume likely shouldn’t top the list.

“Ultimately, it is unlikely employers will view a candidate who resigned during the pandemic negatively or penalize them for that decision,” Phelan concludes. “As long as job candidates can assure potential employers, they are reliable and will be able to fulfill the role in the event of future restrictions, they shouldn’t be treated any differently than someone who resigned from a position during non-pandemic times.”

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)