Career breaks and sabbaticals
Career breaks and sabbaticals

The following Employment guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Career breaks and sabbaticals
  • What is a career break or sabbatical?
  • Career breaks—the key issues
  • Importance of written policy
  • Status of the contract of employment during the break
  • Continuity of employment
  • Continuing contract—statutory right to annual leave
  • Continuing contract—right to statutory sick pay
  • Continuing contract—other statutory rights
  • Continuing contract—contractual rights
  • more

What is a career break or sabbatical?

The terms 'career break' and 'sabbatical' have no particular legal meaning, and the label given to the break is not determinative of its legal nature. In practice:

  1. the term ‘'career break' is often used to describe a longer period of unpaid leave during which the employment contract may continue, but more often does not, and

  2. the term 'sabbatical' is used to describe a shorter period of leave which is often unpaid but might be paid or partly-paid, during which the contract does continue

There is no statutory right to request or take a career break or sabbatical, but many employers (often those in particular sectors such as education, or larger employers) will offer such breaks, at their discretion, in order to:

  1. improve long-term employee retention, eg where the employee would otherwise resign in order to look after young children after the end of birth or adoption-related leave

  2. reward long service (often the specified period of service is very long, eg 10 years or more)

  3. (depending on the reason for the break) encourage the development of new skills, ideas and increase staff motivation

  4. provide an alternative to redundancy during a downturn

An employee may wish to take a career break in order to:

  1. care for children, perhaps after birth or adoption-related leave has come to