Career breaks and sabbaticals

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Career breaks or sabbaticals

Career breaks are periods of unpaid leave, usually between six months and five years. They are generally associated with raising young children but can also be used for caring for other dependants or for study purposes.

Such schemes allow workers to take time out of employment to take care of their responsibilities and return to work with no loss of status.

The usual business benefits for organisations will apply and additionally for career break schemes, they have the opportunity to retain valuable staff in whom they have invested resources in regard to training etc.

However, some disadvantages for the employee may include:

  • acceptance on to a career break scheme may be discretionary
  • eligibility criteria may depend upon performance or length of service
  • there may be no guarantee of a suitable job upon return
  • there may be an impact on service-related benefits
  • opportunities for promotion and development may be restricted.

Good practice guidelines

  • The career break scheme should be open to all, including part-time workers.
  • A Keep In Touch Scheme should be included, which may involve a number of days a year to attend work; a number of days a year to attend training sessions; invitations to certain meetings; communications such as company newsletters; or invitations to social events.
  • The returning employee should be re-employed on terms and conditions no less favourable than at the commencement of the career break.
  • The employee should return at the same grade as before the career break.
  • The employee should be reinstated with the length of service previously accrued, and the period of unpaid leave counting towards service-related requirements for holiday entitlements, sick pay, long service awards etc.
  • The employee should remain a member of the pension scheme while on a career break, although no contributions made.
  • There should be no disadvantage for those on a career break in terms of any performance related-pay scheme.
  • Flexible working arrangements should be made available to ease the return to work.
  • There should be a period of retraining and confidence building after return, as well as the opportunity to refresh and update skills.
  • The scheme should be part of a package of worklife balance working arrangements.
  • It should be clear within the policy that career breaks are also available for reasons other than family responsibilities, such as study leave.

Career break schemes operate in a number of Prospect areas, including: BAE Systems, Big Lottery Fund, Countryside Council for Wales, Historic Scotland, Natural Environment Research Council, Office of Rail Regulation, UK Power Networks, Urenco UK