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Sabbatical or the sack?
10:53am Friday 12th December 2008 in Legal
As many businesses look to cut costs and reduce overheads in the current economic climate, innovative businesses are considering alternatives to redundancy and ways of dealing with the downturn.
While redundancies may help on a short term basis, there is a growing reluctance to let go of valued staff who still have the potential to contribute to the business. If and when business does pick up, the services of some employees who have been made redundant will be sorely missed.
This explains why increasing numbers of employers are turning to sabbaticals as a way of streamlining their workforce during times of recession.
Sabbaticals are still a relatively new concept to many UK businesses with employers traditionally reluctant to let staff go — until now.
Until recently, offering employees an extended period of leave from work was a tactic more commonly used in larger organisations — often as an incentive to employees who reached a specified length of continuous employment.
But businesses are now seeing sabbaticals in a different light. Sabbaticals have to be voluntary as employers cannot ask employees to have time off work and take unpaid leave against their will.
However, if an employee is prepared to take a sabbatical, the main benefit to the business is that during the sabbatical, the employee will remain ‘employed’ and can be easily reintegrated at the conclusion of the leave period. They are unpaid throughout.
In times of economic downturn, sabbaticals allow businesses to avoid issues of redundancy payments and the need to follow complicated procedures for selecting redundancy candidates.
Another benefit for the company is a saving on training costs as returning employees will have been previously trained.
Furthermore, a focus on work life balance can help decrease the level of the overall staff turnover.
The benefits of providing sabbaticals depend on the reasons for the employee wanting to take the extended leave. Most employees want the opportunity to spend time with their family, learn new skills or just take the time to travel and relax, all with the objective of recharging their batteries.
Nevertheless, sabbaticals must be dealt with in the best way possible and a policy or agreement in place will help do this.
A workplace policy for sabbaticals will help minimise disputes and explain fully to employees the business’ approach to how and when sabbaticals can be taken.
It will also ensure both parties act fairly and follow an agreed procedure for dealing with applications — and throughout the sabbatical leave period.
The policy should include terms on how long the employee is to take off, how long an employee must have worked to qualify for such leave, whether the sabbatical is paid or not, what they can and cannot do during the sabbatical and whether or not the same job is guaranteed on their return. Once finalised, the policy should be introduced and explained to all employees.
In addition, an employer may wish to have an agreement drawn up to confirm the terms and conditions of the sabbatical for the individual employee.
Again this can state that the employee continues to be employed and the duty of good faith remains. It can allow the employee to visit and keep in touch during their leave and receive post and e-mails to keep them informed of any changes and updates within the business.
Any pay to the employee during the sabbatical should be detailed within the agreement, with the employee still having the right to accrue holiday, potential bonuses and consideration for promotion if it should arise.
Sabbaticals may not be appropriate for all employees — but in times of economic uncertainty they do provide businesses with another option as to how to retain key staff while at the same time addressing issues of cost and overheads.
o Contact: Lisa Wright 01235 771234 Web: www.clmlaw.co.uk