Do you sit at your desk day dreaming about taking a career break and want to take some time out?
If you want to take a sabbatical/career break from work, it is helpful to know your legal position before you approach your employers.
What is the law on career breaks or sabbaticals?
Simple... there isn't any law surrounding career breaks or sabbatical. The company can use their discretion and have no obligation to accept your request for a career break/sabbatical. An employee has no statutory right to take a career break or sabbatical and any agreements will have to be made between the company and the employee.
What if my employers have a career break or sabbatical policy?
Check your company's policies to see if there is mention of a sabbatical scheme. Now, don't get too excited, it is the larger corporate companies that usually offer these, as they will have the resources in place to cover you. If they do have one, there will usually be a certain criteria that you will have to meet. Many of the sabbatical schemes I have seen will state that you had to be working with them for a set period of time (usually 2 years) and they will have a set a maximum duration that you can go for (usually 1-2 years max). Some large companies may have partnerships with volunteering programs which you can utilise, particularly if your company is concerned about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In rare cases they may even continue to pay a small percent of your salary while you are away to help with expenses.
If your employers have a policy of this nature, it is still your managers discretion and it may be that they have a valid reason why they won't grant your request. If you don't get one, there is a chance that you would have a case for discrimination against your employers, particularly if they had granted sabbaticals to other members of staff previously.
Ultimately, it depends if they will agree to terms that not only works for your employer, but works with your plans as well. If a company has a policy of this nature, it means they are open to talking about it, which is a great starting point. But even if your company doesn't have a policy, it doesn't mean that they wont agree to you taking the time off.
Do I need an official sabbatical/career break agreement drawn up?
YES! Great news, your employers have agreed to you taking a career break, but you need to ensure you get it in writing!
What should the sabbatical/career break agreement include?
You need to ensure that you have a legally valid contract, with clear terms, which is signed by you and your employer in place before you leave. Your career break agreement (or sabbatical agreement) will be governed by law, so you can rely on this if your employer does not comply with the agreed terms. This does work both ways, so you need to ensure you comply with any conditions, for example if it states you can't undertake paid work in the same industry, then don't.
The agreement should cover various situations which could arise while you are away and when you return, for example:
- What if you wanted to extend your career break?
- What would happen if you came back early and want to return to work?
- What would happen if you were made redundant?
- Will your continuity of employment be preserved?
- If you have any bonus schemes/perks, how would these be affected?
- What would happen if your job no longer existed, do they have an obligation to offer you a new one?
- If you have a company car, do you have to return this?
- Will your sabbatical make a different to your salary structure?
Just be aware that while you are on your sabbatical, you are still an employee of the company and they have the control over what goes into the agreement. Hopefully they will listen to what you want and you can come to a mutual agreement.
Once the agreement is drafted, read it carefully to ensure you are happy with it before signing it. Once all of the legal stuff is sorted, then it's time to get excited and plan your trip.
Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice for your individual circumstances.