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Introduction to this document

Letter confirming a career break

If you grant an employee time off work for a career break or sabbatical, you should confirm the provisions relating to it in writing, even if you already have a policy in place governing the situation. In particular it’s important to confirm the situation regarding the employee’s contract of employment and their continuity of employment.

No statutory right

Unless it falls within one of the family friendly rights, there is no statutory entitlement for employees to take a career break or sabbatical. Whether you grant time off in these circumstances is entirely at your discretion and subject to any relevant terms in the employee’s contract of employment or in any policy you have in place on the subject. Our Leaves of Absence Policy includes a section on career breaks. 

Continuing contract?

If the period of an employee’s career break is paid (whether full or part salary) their contract of employment will remain in force throughout the break. This means, for example, that the employee will continue to accrue annual leave entitlement, at least in respect of the statutory minimum entitlement under the Working Time Regulations 1998. It also means the employee does not immediately forfeit their right to return to work just because they fail to return on the due date - in this scenario, you would have to invoke the disciplinary procedure as you would with any period of unauthorised absence. If you want to break continuity of employment and the employee’s contract of employment, ensure the career break is entirely unpaid and that other terms of employment are stopped. Even if the career break is unpaid, the employee may still be entitled to claim continuity of employment once they’ve returned to work if this has been agreed by the parties in advance via an “agreement”. This is why our Letter Confirming a Career Break makes clear that continuity of employment will be broken by the break, i.e. so the employee can’t purport to argue there was an agreement between you to preserve their continuity. Our letter also clarifies that the employee’s employment terminates on the last working day before the career break starts and their contract of employment will not remain in force. It’s really up to you whether you wish to preserve their employment or not.

Other provisions

Other provisions included in our letter confirming a career break are:

 confirmation of the start and end dates of the break and the due date of return to work

 agreement as to the purpose of the break

 clarification that the employee cannot take on paid employment or work in a self-employed capacity during the break (and if they do so, this will bring the break immediately to an end)

 confirmation that on a return to work, it will be a new period of employment

 provisions relating to the right to return to work and forfeiture of that right where there’s a failure to return on the due return date

 an acceptance form for the employee to signify their consent to the career break terms.