24 October 2019

Unpaid leave – extended leave - time off

Most of us complain that we don’t have enough time to do all the things we want and need to do. Time away from work is very precious, but holidays pass very quickly, and some organisations now offer extra, extended periods of time allowing employees to undertake a greater range of experiences and activities in their personal time.

Sabbaticals, as this extended time has become known, provide extra time off from the working life – a sort of mid-life gap year. They are popular with employees and can increase retention.

Taking a sabbatical involves the employee taking a period, over and above normal paid annual leave away from the workplace. Generally, it is a single period of extended leave, but may consist of short, frequent periods of absence or regular time off - for instance, to work with or support another organisation. They 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.

Where the sabbatical period is unpaid, the contract of employment is normally regarded as suspended, so that no contractual benefits are due for that period. If you pay the employee 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.

A period of sabbatical leave usually comes with conditions attached, both in respect of eligibility for a sabbatical and what happens during and at the end of the sabbatical itself. If you’re considering offering sabbaticals give some thought to the following.

  • Make it clear that the granting of a sabbatical is dependent on (amongst other things) the business’ operational requirements and that no request can be guaranteed even where an employee meets all the eligibility criteria.
  • Ensure that part-time employees are afforded the same benefits as equivalent full-time staff.
  • Will the sabbatical be 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?
  • What employment benefits (if any) will continue during the employee's absence?
  • To what extent will you require the employee to stay in touch during the period of absence?
  • Agree in advance when and how the employee will return to the workplace.
  • Ensure that any guarantee related to the return to work is worded clearly to avoid any disagreement or challenge later.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2023 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.