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What do I say to people who ask where I've been?
Sadly there are still plenty of people around who regard a career break or prolonged time off as either a sign of weakness or grounds for suspicion, but that’s their problem. Other colleagues may simply be curious. Whether your break was due to circumstances beyond your control or something you chose to do for good reasons, you have nothing to be ashamed of, so be upfront and positive about it if asked. Your time is likely to have given you new skills and experiences, and/or a fresh perspective and approach to your work. The chances are it’s made you a better person and a better worker.
Of course, you don’t have to say anything at all if you don’t feel comfortable discussing it – your life outside of work is no one’s business but your own. Only your manager is entitled to know more, but only in confidence and in relation to your ability to carry out your role. Employment law provides protection for workers against discrimination at work on the grounds of, amongst other things, maternity, health and disability. This means that you should not expect less favourable treatment, if you have been away from work for a prolonged period to start a family or because of extended illness of any kind.
(You might also be interested to read our related advice about how to explain a gap in your employment history on your CV.)