There are a number of reasons why an employee might ask for a sabbatical, a career break. It can be due to family commitments, volunteering, travelling, studying or even for religious reasons. Employees are entitled to request that they take a sabbatical, but employers are the ones who can set the terms of who is eligible. Let’s take a look at the process and how it works.
Key points on sabbaticals
There are no laws that specifically deal with taking a sabbatical and employers don’t have to offer the option. However, it is best to have a clear policy regarding sabbaticals and career breaks so that employees know what the company position is on the topic. Sabbaticals are normally unpaid and are shorter while a career break is also unpaid but may last for longer.
Employers should lay out what period of break they would offer although they have the right to look at each situation on a case by case basis. It is important to consider who would cover the employee’s duties while they were on sabbatical and if it isn’t possible to cover them, this may the reason that the sabbatical request is refused.
But there needs to be a fair and consistent approach to the topic to avoid being accused of discrimination or treating employees favorably compared with others. It should also lay out things such as annual leave entitlement and contractual benefits while on sabbatical.
Reasons that are considered acceptable to refuse a sabbatical include:
- Poor attendance and performance
- Inability of the employer to cover the role
- Demand for customer service
- Current disciplinary proceedings
Why employers allow sabbaticals
At first glance, it may seem that there’s no real benefit to allowing your staff to take a sabbatical. But there are some points to consider. For starters, allowing someone some time away from their job could make the difference to physical or mental health – and prevent them from leaving their role entirely. It also saves on the cost of training a new employee for the role and you are making a saving in terms of their wages for the duration of the sabbatical.
It is also worth discussing with the employee about taking a sabbatical when it is best for the company – usually the quietest time of the year. Maybe Christmas is a lull or the summer. Whatever the case, put forward this idea and that can help make it acceptable for both the employer and the employee.
Creating a process
Once you have laid out the basics of what an employee should consider when asking for a sabbatical, it is then important to create a process to request one and how this request is handled. For example, the employee would normally request it through their line manager, HR department or directly to the HR system if there is one.
It is important to have a clear start and end date of the sabbatical and that this is recorded in some kind of contract. This means the employee is clear on when the sabbatical starts and ends and also what their rights are during the time. It should also make clear that there is no payment for the period of the sabbatical unless this is agreed otherwise.