The team made the decision on Wednesday after meeting with the 2013 Pro Bowl selection and his agent at Bank of America Stadium.
The designation means Hardy can be around the team but can't participate in practice. Hardy has a Nov. 17 date set to hear his appeal of a July 15 guilty verdict for assaulting and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder.
Hardy's attorney, Chris Fialko, consistently has said the case likely will not be heard until sometime in 2015 because of the case backload.
By going on the exempt list, Hardy still will be paid his weekly portions of a $13.1 million salary as team's franchise tag. Had the league suspended him without pay, he would have forfeited salary.
"I understand that I need to step away from football right now and take care of this legal matter," Hardy said in a statement. "I am entitled to my day in court and that's where my focus should be.
"I am disappointed to leave my teammates and the Carolina Panthers organization during our season. My decision to take a leave of absence allows me to focus on my family until the legal process has run its course."
According to the NFL, only commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to place a player on the exempt list, as it is a "special player status available to clubs only in unusual circumstances."
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said the team is in the "midst of a trying situation."
"We have attempted to be very thoughtful and intentional about this," Gettleman said. "Our overriding goal has always been to do the right thing."
The Panthers (2-0) enter Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the league's fifth-ranked defense. Wes Horton, Mario Addison and second-round draft pick Kony Ealy teamed to replace Hardy in Sunday's 24-7 victory over the Detroit Lions.
But Hardy, who led the team with 15 sacks last season, will be missed because he can play every down instead of situational as his replacements.
"You take a player of his caliber off the field and it is going to affect us," strong safety Roman Harper said. "But at the end of the day, you can't use that as an excuses or a crutch. You have to fly around and make plays as a defense. We understand what we will be missing, but at the end of the day we still have a job to do."
That was the constant theme throughout the locker room.
"You learn very fast in this league that there are going to be a lot of outside factors," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. "You have to do the best you can not to let those things impact your preparations and really focus on what you can control.
"The most successful teams just worry about the here and now and what they can control."