- There is no legal obligation on employers to offer employees sabbaticals.
- Sabbaticals are often regarded as an important part of an employee's career development, and may be granted for a variety of different reasons including study, research, travel or voluntary work.
- Offering sabbaticals to senior staff can aid their retention by allowing them scope to try something different with the security of knowing that they can return to work at the end of the time away.
- Employers who grant sabbaticals usually attach various conditions, both in respect of eligibility for a sabbatical and what happens during and at the end of the sabbatical itself.
- Sabbaticals are usually available only to employees in senior grades or defined disciplines and to those who have a specified minimum number of years' continuous service with the organisation.
- It is advisable for employers to make it clear in their sabbaticals policy that the granting of a sabbatical is dependent on (amongst other things) the employer's operational requirements at the relevant time, and that no request can be guaranteed even where an employee meets all the eligibility criteria.
- Where an employer does grant sabbaticals, it must ensure that part-time employees are afforded the same benefits as equivalent full-time staff - for example, any length of service requirement must be the same as for full-time employees.
- Rules on sabbaticals must include whether the sabbatical is paid (in full or in part), what happens to the job while the individual is away, and the employee's rights in respect of the return to work.
- The employer must determine as part of its sabbaticals policy what employment benefits (if any) are to continue during the employee's absence on sabbatical.
- If pay is not maintained during a sabbatical, the contract of employment is normally regarded as suspended, so that no contractual benefits are due either.
- An employer who grants a sabbatical usually requires the employee to stay in touch during the period of absence.
- It is most important that both the employer and the employee agree in advance when and how the employee will return to the workplace.
- The employer should take particular care to ensure that any guarantee of re-employment is worded clearly and unambiguously in order to avoid any disagreement or challenge at a later date.
- If the employee continues to be paid during the sabbatical, it has the effect that the contract of employment continues in force, which in turn means that the employee's continuity of service is preserved for statutory purposes.
- Where a period of sabbatical leave is unpaid (so that the contract of employment does not remain in force), the employee's continuity of service may nevertheless be preserved following his or her return to work, provided the absence was as a result of a prior 'arrangement' or a 'custom'.
- undertake a period of study
- conduct some research
- travel (usually with a view to broadening the employee's outlook and general knowledge)
- do voluntary work
- work for a temporary period in a different type of organisation.
- sabbaticals are open only to employees in certain grades or disciplines
- employees must have a minimum number of years' continuous service with the organisation in order to be eligible for sabbatical leave
- employees must have met certain minimum performance standards in order to be eligible, measurable (for example) by way of performance appraisals over the past three to five years.
- sabbatical must be for no more than a defined period of time - for example, one year
- sabbatical may be taken only in one block, or alternatively that several defined shorter periods of time within an overall time-span may be taken
- employee must keep in touch with his or her manager during the absence at defined intervals
- employee must do some work for the employer during the period of the sabbatical, and the nature and timing of such work
- employee may not work for another employer without the current employer's express consent
- employee must give a minimum period of notice prior to the proposed return date if the date has not been expressly agreed in advance.
- how the sabbatical will affect the employee's entitlement to employment benefits in the longer term - ie whether the period of absence will be counted or discounted in respect of any contractual benefits that are dependent on length of service
- whether to continue perks such as the use of a company car, paid telephone bills, the provision of a laptop or other equipment, etc
- how any occupational pension benefits will be affected.
- guarantee that the employee will be reinstated at the end of the sabbatical in the same job as before, or
- guarantee that the employee will be re-engaged in a job of equivalent status and on terms no less favourable than those that would have applied had the employee not taken the sabbatical, or
- stipulate that re-employment in the same job or an equivalent job cannot be guaranteed, but that the employer will do its best to offer the employee a suitable position that will make appropriate use of his or her skills and experience as and when a vacancy arises. If this is the case, the employer may wish to introduce a 'retainer scheme' which places employees on a waiting list until a suitable vacancy arises.
I am an HR Manager in a small business employing 30 staff. Our team leader has asked if he can have a six month sabbatical to visit family in Australia. We have agreed in principle because of his personal circumstances – his daughter has just had a baby and he has not seen her for four years. However, we will need to replace him in his absence and because of the specialist nature of the role it would be with another member of staff. The member of staff we have in mind is keen to develop and we feel it would be difficult for her to step down again on his return. How should we proceed?
I am an HR Business Partner with a medium sized business with offices across the UK. We don’t have a policy on sabbaticals but it was agreed three months ago that one of our long serving staff – she has been with us for 20 years – could have a six month paid sabbatical in order to travel. She has contacted me to say she is 16 weeks pregnant and wants to start her maternity leave immediately at the end of her sabbatical when she will be 29 weeks pregnant. She has given me her EWC and her calculations seem to be accurate. Do we have to agree to this?
As you agreed to pay your employee during her sabbatical her contract of employment is still in force. Whether contractual terms and benefits remain in force is something that should be covered in an employer’s policy on sabbaticals. As you do not have a policy in place it would be reasonable for the employee to assume that these terms and benefits will continue unless you have specifically stated otherwise. Her continuity of service would remain and she would therefore retain her right to maternity leave which is a day one right and entitlement to SMP as she will have 26 weeks’ continuous service at the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. A pregnant employee is required to notify her employer of her intention to take maternity leave by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth which she has done. She must comply with the other notification requirements (for example to provide you with her MAT B1 form) but as long as this is the case she would be entitled to start her maternity leave as requested.
We have an employee on sabbatical in accordance with our policy of offering unpaid sabbaticals of up to three months to members of staff who have been with us for 10 years. We now have a redundancy situation within the department this employee works as we lost a key client and the work of the department has now diminished. It is a small department of six staff. We need to reduce headcount by two and would like one of those people to be the person on sabbatical as we have not covered his role for the last month and we have found that the team have managed well without him and productivity has not dipped. We would like to write to him to say he is redundant at the end of his sabbatical – can we do this?
If pay is not maintained during a sabbatical the contract of employment would normally be regarded as suspended however under the Employment Rights Act 1996 Section 212(3)(c) any week during which an employee is absent from work ‘by arrangement’ or as a result of a ‘custom’ will count in computing the employee’s period of continuous employment. You can make your employee redundant but even though he is on an unpaid sabbatical you are required to consult with him as an affected individual and to treat him in the same way as you would treat employees not on sabbatical. The consultation carried out with the individual needs to be ‘adequate’ if any subsequent dismissal is not to be unfair. This would mean warning at an early stage that the job may be redundant, consultation on selection for redundancy and opportunity to appeal, discussion on possible alternative employment. King v Eaton (1996) clarified requirements on individual consultation by creating the following test: Was the employee ‘given a fair and proper opportunity to understand the matters that are subject to consultation, express a view and have that view properly considered?’. You must ensure that you follow these requirements with regards to consulting the employee on sabbatical.