A Complete Guide to Sabbatical Leave in the UK

Welcome to my complete guide to sabbatical leave in the UK.

As a British resident who has taken three sabbaticals and also signed them off for employees, I am a firm believer in the benefit time away from the workplace can have.

If you’re thinking of taking a sabbatical too, you’re in good company.

In fact, 62% of people in the UK have said they would take a sabbatical from work if it was an option.

This guide will help you understand some of the specifics of sabbatical leave in the UK and has links to other in-depth posts from my website which will help turn your sabbatical dreams into practical, well-thought-through plans.

Join my mailing list to get regular sabbatical updates, including TSG Thursday which will give you a weekly dose of travel and sabbatical information.

Sabbatical Leave UK – Key Questions Answered

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended period of time off of work that is mutually agreed with your employer above and beyond your annual leave entitlement.

This period of time can be anything from one month to five years, but anything above three months is often treated as a break in service, which means your long service benefits will reset on your return or

What is a Sabbatical? Detailed Guide, Benefits and 8 Examples

Is there a difference between a sabbatical and a career break?

In most instances sabbatical and career break are interchangeable phrases however, check the HR policies for your business.

In some companies, a sabbatical (or lifestyle break) is a shorter period of time off work and a career break is a longer period of time (usually above three months). With a career break, your career is literally ‘broken’ after the agreed time period, and when you return your long service benefits such as sick leave and additional holiday will be reset as if it was your first day with the company.

Do I get paid for sabbatical leave in the UK?

Generally, no.

Sabbaticals in the UK are usually an unpaid period of time away from the workplace, though there some examples of companies who award extended breaks to employees after a certain length of service.

Companies such as Deloitte also offer a sabbatical program for career growth, which allows you to volunteer or pursue professional or personal growth opportunities. During this three to six month sabbatical, they will pay you 40% of your salary.

Who is eligible for a sabbatical in the UK?

Eligibility requirements for sabbaticals depend entirely on individual company policies.

Companies have to ensure no employee is discriminated against of they do have a sabbatical policy, for example, a part-time team member’s application should be given the same consideration as a full-timer. All applications must be considered fairly and equally.

There are often terms built into company sabbatical policies that help employees understand if they qualify.

Common examples of these are:

  • Length of service
  • Disciplinary record
  • Exclusions at certain times of year (such as Christmas in retail or end of year in accounting)
  • Availability of someone to cover the role, this is especially applicable in small companies

Most companies will also state that you cannot work for any other company whilst on sabbatical.

Sabbatical Leave UK Law

Is there employment law around sabbatical leave in the UK?

There is no legal obligation in the UK for an employer to offer a sabbatical program, they are offered as an employee benefit rather than a requirement. So unlike other types of leave such maternity or annual leave there is no specific sabbatical law in the UK.

Many employers do offer them despite the lack of legal requirements, as they help with the retention of team members or offered as a reward for long service and are seen as an important benefit in modern workplaces.

Can a sabbatical request legally be refused?

As sabbaticals are not covered by any UK law, a sabbatical can be rejected by your employer. However, most will provide clear, business-related reasons for refusing a sabbatical request, so they don’t disengage the employee.

These could include:

  • Poor performance or attendance history
  • Live or pending disciplinary warnings
  • Not being able to find cover for the role
  • High demand for the work meaning the team member does, meaning them taking time off would leave the employer critically short (ofter seen in services such as the army or police force)

If you are looking for tips on how to get a sabbatical then read:
How To Request a Sabbatical and Get One (9 Simple Steps)

Which Companies and Professions in the UK Offer Sabbaticals?

I have worked through some of the biggest employers in the UK and research their sabbatical policies.

Below is a table showing the 10 biggest employers by number in the UK and some details on their sabbatical policies.

If your UK company doesn’t have a sabbatical policy, that does not mean your sabbatical dreams are over. Have a read of ‘How To Negotiate A Sabbatical When Your Company Has No Policy‘ for some practical tips on how to move forward.

*Please note, for the companies showing ‘no’ to a sabbatical program, this may mean they do not publish the details externally and my research meant I could not find any details. As always ask your HR team or consult internal intranet pages for more details

Below are expanded details for some of the most searched for sabbatical policies in the UK. These will give you an idea of the different types of terms and conditions that are in place for sabbatical leave.

NHS Sabbatical

Sabbatical leave is available in the NHS for anyone with 12 months’ service.

The minimum length of a career break in the NHS is three months with the maximum being five years. If the sabbatical is for less than a year then the employee will be able to return to the same job and if the sabbatical is longer than a year then they will be able to return to a similar job.

Learn more about a sabbatical within the NHS at NHSEmployers.org and NHS24.scot.

Tesco Sabbatical or Career Break

Tesco has two policies relating to sabbaticals.

One is a short-term option called a ‘lifestyle break’. This allows you to take up to three months off of work unpaid and maintain your service record with the business. You will return to your job at the end of the break.

Their second policy is called a ‘career break’ which is for periods between three months and five years. If you opt to take one of these you will essentially be leaving the business, all benefits will be stopped and your length of service broken. The benefit for you is that they will help you to find an equivalent role at the end of the break, though there is no guarantee.

Career Break Asda

Asda’s ‘My Lifestyle’ program allows team members to take up to 12 weeks off work unpaid, either on a no-work basis or working on reduced hours for that period.

Asda also have Career Break program which allows team members with more than three years’ service and a good performance record to take anything from six months’ to three years’ unpaid leave.

Deloitte Sabbatical

Deloitte offers two sabbatical programs to eligible employees.

One is an unpaid one-month sabbatical that can be taken for any reason.

The other is a three- to six-month sabbatical that can be taken to pursue personal or professional growth opportunities in the areas of career development or volunteerism. While on a three- to six-month sabbatical, professionals continue to receive 40% of their pre-sabbatical base salary.

More details here.

Sabbaticals for UK Teachers

As part of its ‘Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and improving career progression for teachers’ consultation response, released in May 2018, the Department for Education committed to setting up a work-related sabbaticals pilot for teachers who had been in the profession for at least 10 years. The pilot was set to begin in September 2019; however, no further details were released about it following the initial announcement.

It was been suggested that teachers could use their sabbatical to study or work in a sector relevant to their field. For teachers to be accepted, they were to be able to prove that the year out will in some way enhance their teaching.

As of yet, I cannot find any information to suggest that this scheme has rolled out nationally.

HSBC Sabbatical Leave

HSBC has a sabbatical policy which typically allows team members to take off somewhere between three and six months and includes full payment for the first month away.

To qualify an employee needs to have worked for the bank for five continuous years and meet certain additional criteria which I can’t find any public details of.

British Army Sabbatical

The British Army has a sabbatical policy which is called a ‘Career Intermission’.

There are three lengths of career intermission on offer:

  • 3 to 6 months
  • 6 to 12 months
  • 1 to 3 years

To qualify the career intermission must be at least three years after an individual’s phase two training (which is the next stage after basic training), so for most this will be around four to five years after joining the Army.

The British Army has many strict conditions on allowing an individual to take a career intermission, which can be found in section 5 of this document, and these range from disciplinary records through to operational manning requirements and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Sabbatical Leave UK Resources

Below are some resources to help you with further information and planning of a sabbatical in the UK.

Informational Sites

This page covers UK government guidelines on career breaks.

CIPD HR-Inform
This page gives a detailed guide to employee law around sabbaticals in the UK

Cascade HR
This fantastic resource is a guide to sabbaticals in the UK for employers, but there is still a lot to be learned for employees too.

Sabbatical Planning Sites

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