One of our long-standing employees has asked if he could take an unpaid career break/sabbatical of one year to enable him to do some travelling and volunteering. As he is a valued member of staff and someone we do not want to lose in the long term, his manager has said that he is prepared to agree. What do we need to bear in mind, and what do we need to do next?
As you probably know, you don’t have any legal obligations to offer sabbaticals or career breaks. Although they may be seen as a ‘perk’ and therefore something that businesses may be cutting back on at the moment, they can also be a useful alternative to redundancy, allowing employers to save costs for a specified time while they wait for business to pick up.
Essentially a career break is something which is agreed between the employer and the individual employee, and as with any contractual agreement it is always best to ensure the terms are clearly recorded in writing. Some large organisations have specific policies on career breaks, and some even offer part-pay during the break, but there is no legal requirement to do either of these things.
Presumably in your situation you are prepared to keep the employee’s job open for him so that he will return to his previous role at the end of the agreed sabbatical period – sometimes the contract of employment is referred to as having been ‘suspended’ during the break. If that is the case, then presumably you would honour his continuous service for the purposes of things like contractual benefits and any future redundancy payments. Also, you may need to specifically deal with what happens about benefits, bonus schemes and pay reviews etc. while he is away, and you would want his duties to you in terms of fidelity and confidentiality to continue to apply. All of these points will need to be clearly documented in the agreement with him.
You will need to specifically state what the arrangements are about holiday – if employment continues during the sabbatical, the employee will continue to accrue annual leave, so you may want to specify when this is to be taken.
The documentation will need to carefully deal with what happens at the end of the career break, either what the employee has the right to come back to, or what happens if he or she doesn’t return. There are no rules on this so it depends on the individual arrangement.
We recommend that you provide the employee with a copy of your proposed agreement before finalising arrangements for the sabbatical, and ask him to confirm his acceptance of the terms in writing.
We have helped other clients with career break/sabbatical agreements so are happy to prepare these or discuss suitable terms with you – please do get in touch if we can help. Please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team 01243 836840 or [email protected].