Sabbatical Leave

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

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In this guide, we'll discuss what sabbatical leave is, how long it can last, and how to manage it in your business.

As an employer, the health and wellbeing of your staff should be one of your main priorities. And from time to time, one of your employees may need an extended time away from the business - this is known as sabbatical leave.

If this is the case in your company, you must understand each element involved in the sabbatical process. This includes the length, how to manage it, and whether it's paid. Failure to manage it correctly could lead to claims being raised against you at an employment tribunal.

In this guide, we'll discuss what sabbatical leave is, how long it can last, and how to manage it in your business.

What is sabbatical leave?

Sabbatical leave is when an employee takes a career break for an extended period. This type of leave is typically offered to people in academic professions. However, there's a variety of reasons why an employee may choose to go on a sabbatical, such as:

  • Personal reasons.
  • Learning and the development of new skills.
  • For an extended rest.

How long is sabbatical leave?

There's no specific agreement on how long an employee can take a sabbatical. Typically, they’re between one month to a year. Anything shorter tends to be taken as annual leave.

For example, a sabbatical year may be used for an employee completing an advanced degree. But how long you provide an employee with sabbatical leave depends on your internal policy.

How often can an employee take a sabbatical?

There are no specific guidelines for how many times an employee can take a sabbatical. It all depends on the relationship between the employer and the employee. Or if they have an internal policy that outlines this.

However, you should act fairly and not allow one rule for one member of staff and one for others. If your employees feel you're being unfair by offering sabbaticals to others and not them, they may look for a role elsewhere.

Not to mention, they could raise an employment tribunal claim against you for discrimination.

Do you have to pay staff on sabbatical leave?

It's your discretion as to whether you pay your staff when they're on sabbatical leave. But, if you have an internal policy you must follow what is outlined there. You may choose to only accept paid sabbaticals for employee development reasons or to complete voluntary work.

For unpaid sabbaticals, you could allow more flexibility. But this depends upon the internal policy already in place at your workplace.

Moreover, it also depends on what employers have done in the past, to ensure consistency with employees regarding pay. 

Employer benefits of sabbatical leave

You may be surprised, but there are many sabbatical benefits for employers. Below are some advantages that come with offering sabbatical programs within your company:

  • An extended break can give your employees much-needed time away from work to refresh.
  • Your employees may gain new skills and experience that could aid your business in the long term.
  • It can increase staff retention as it shows your employees you care about them.
  • It can help you to attract the best talent to your company as it shows you offer a wide range of benefits.

If you're thinking of offering sabbatical leave in your company, carefully consider all of the above. Focusing on the wellbeing of your employees should be one of your main priorities. And offering sabbatical leave could be a fantastic way of aiding this.

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How to manage sabbatical leave

Once you've decided you're going to provide sabbatical leave to your employees, it's important to manage it properly. You should make it clear to the people working for you how they can ask for leave, and how you're going to oversee the process.

Let's discuss ways of managing sabbaticals in more detail:

Create a sabbatical policy

One way you can offer this form of leave to your employees is to introduce sabbatical policies. These policies will make it clear to your employees how they go about requesting leave and the rules surrounding it. The policy should include:

  • Clear guidelines on how employees request leave.
  • Whom staff should request leave from.
  • That you will decide whether a sabbatical can be agreed upon for an employee.
  • Whether you're offering unpaid or paid sabbatical leave.
  • How long employees can take a sabbatical for.
  • If the employee can end their career break early.
  • Whether the employee is entitled to return to their previous role.
  • If they can be offered an alternative suitable role (as it may not be reasonably practical for them to return to their previous role).
  • That the sabbatical may be only available for a specified period, such as after five years of service.

Your sabbatical policy should be included within your employee handbook, and signed before starting employment.

Ask your employee to provide enough notice

Another way to ensure the process is handled correctly is by ensuring your employees provide you with enough notice. This is important because staff on a sabbatical are away from the office for extended periods, and you might have to spend time recruiting.

Typically, a month's notice should work. But this depends on the job role and the amount of handover needed. For example, you shouldn't let your employees provide you with only two weeks' notice. It won't be enough time for you to prepare for their extended period of absence.

Create a return-to-work programme

A good way to manage sabbatical leave in your business is to create an efficient return to work for your employees. It can be tough for anyone to attend work after an extended period, so you should help them manage their return.

This can include a return-to-work interview, or refresher training. This type of training could be invaluable, especially if there's been a process change during an employee’s absence.

What alternatives are there to sabbatical leave?

The decision to offer sabbatical leave is a big move for your company, so it's important to know what other types of leave you could offer to your employees.

Let's discuss some of them in more detail:

Annual leave

All UK employees have a statutory entitlement of 5.6 weeks of paid leave each year. But, this could even be more if stated in the contract of employment.

Sick leave and pay

Employees don't need to take sabbatical leave if they're unwell, ill, or attending hospital appointments. They’re entitled to take time off work if they are sick. You are not required to pay them, but they will still be entitled to SSP.

Compassionate leave

If your employees suffer the loss of a family member, need to attend a funeral, or are dealing with a family emergency - you could provide them with compassionate leave. How long you allow your employees to be off is dependent on your internal policy, however, it's beneficial to give them as much time as they need.

Parental leave

If you have an employee who is having a baby, or adopting a child - there are different types of leave employees are entitled to. They have a statutory right to maternity leave and pay, adoption leave, and paternity leave (if they qualify).

Can employers refuse a sabbatical request?

Yes, employers can refuse a sabbatical leave request from staff. This is because there's no legal requirement for employees to take a sabbatical from a company.

However, you could choose to accept requests for unpaid sabbatical leave as it might save your business money. But, be aware that employees will still accrue holidays when taking this type of unpaid leave.

Ensure you take each request on an individual basis, and listen to your employee’s reasons for wanting to take this type of paid or unpaid leave.

Get expert advice on sabbatical leave from Peninsula

Looking after your employees' wellbeing is vital. And if they require an extended period away from work, it's important you manage the situation correctly.

If one of your employees wants to take sabbatical leave, you need to understand each element involved. This includes the length, how to manage the process, and whether it's paid or not. Not offering it correctly could lead to claims being raised against you.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, to help you with sabbatical leave. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.


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