Is my job secure while I'm on a career break?

That depends on your employer and/or what you negotiate with them. The first thing to do is check your contract or staff handbook to see if your company offers a sabbatical policy. It should include information about:

  • eligibility for taking a sabbatical and the required notice period;
  • how to apply and how long is allowed; and
  • if, and how, this will affect your contract’s terms and conditions (e.g. eligibility for pay increases, etc.).

If there is no such policy, find out if any of your colleagues have taken a career break to see how they negotiated it, or approach your HR department directly.  And if there is no policy or precedent, but your boss agrees to keep your job open, make sure you have it in writing and understand any conditions that they might impose. 

If your job is made redundant while you are away, your entitlement to statutory redundancy rights, namely a redundancy payment and protection against unfair dismissal (unfair selection for redundancy) is dependent on having the requisite continuous service. For redundancy payments, it is two years' continuous service and for unfair dismissal it is 12 months' continuous service.

Continuity of employment is a statutory concept. The legislation states that a break of one week of service will break continuity. However there are some limited exceptions, one being absence from work in circumstances where it is customary for such absence to count for continuity. If it could be shown, therefore, that absence on a career break constituted such circumstances, then you would be protected. Otherwise your break in service would make you ineligible. Assuming you were eligible you could expect to be treated the same as if you were still at work.

Your employer would be expected to consult with you and your trade union in accordance with the appropriate statutory consultation provisions. If your employer decided to select you for redundancy solely because you were on a career break this could be held to be unfair redundancy selection. You would be entitled to appropriate statutory redundancy payments provided you had been continuously employed for two years or more and were over the age of 18.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.