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What Is Sabbatical Leave? Everything You Need To Know

Sabbatical leave is most commonly associated with academia, but more industries and employers are now offering it as a benefit. Here’s everything you need to know about sabbatical leave.
May 24, 2022 6 mins read

Developing a strong employee benefits package is one of the most important things you can do as an employer. Offering generous time-off benefits can help promote a healthy work-life balance that is vital to both talent acquisition and retention.

One benefit that employers are increasingly offering is sabbatical leave. You’ve likely heard of sabbatical leave being used within academic professions, but it’s now branching out across all sectors and industries, and with good reason. Sabbaticals can help companies combat the Great Resignation and reduce employee burnout.

In this article, we answer all your questions about sabbatical leave, so you can feel more confident about incorporating it into your own company benefits packages.

Sabbatical Leave Meaning

A sabbatical is a type of leave that allows employees to take extended time off from work. It’s typically not a statutory right but is offered to employees on a discretionary basis by their employer. The length of a work sabbatical can vary but usually lasts between one month and one year.

Sabbatical leave is most commonly associated with academic professions as a way for instructors to take time off to pursue research, work on projects, or simply spend more time with family. However, more professions and companies now offer sabbatical leave as a benefit to their employees.

Both employers and employees can benefit greatly from sabbaticals. Even though an employee doesn’t work during it, they can learn and develop new skills that contribute to personal and business growth on their return. Additionally, sabbaticals can help boost employee well-being, allowing them to return to work feeling rejuvenated and motivated.

Sabbatical leave is earned and measured differently from other types of leave, such as annual leave. For example, an employee may only be eligible for sabbatical leave after five years of employment, whereas they may be eligible for annual leave from day one. In some cases, an employee may use both annual and sabbatical leave in the same calendar year.‍

What Are the Different Types of Sabbatical Leave?

There are two types of sabbatical leave; paid and unpaid. Employers may provide only one or the other, or they may have both options available with differing eligibility requirements.

Factors such as tenure, sabbatical duration, and the reason for the sabbatical can determine if it qualifies as paid or unpaid. Whichever it may be, employees remain employed for the duration of their absence and return to their same roles upon completion.

Let’s go over some of the main differences between paid and unpaid sabbatical leave, as well as common eligibility requirements.

Paid Sabbatical Leave

Typically, sabbaticals are considered to be a type of paid leave, but this is usually up to the employer’s discretion. Additionally, some employers may only pay a percentage of an employee’s salary while they’re on sabbatical.

Employers that offer sabbatical leave often require employees to have worked with the company for an extended period to be eligible for a paid sabbatical. Other employers may only offer paid sabbaticals for professional growth reasons, such as to earn a degree or certification, rather than for a personal sabbatical that involves travel or recreational activities.

Unpaid Sabbatical Leave

There are benefits to offering paid sabbaticals over unpaid ones. One of the main benefits of sabbaticals is allowing employees to relax and feel a greater sense of well-being, which is harder to attain if the employee is worried about their finances.

On the flip side, budget constraints may not allow an employer to offer paid sabbatical leave. Unpaid sabbaticals function the same as other types of unpaid leave, like unpaid sick leave and bereavement leave, where the employee is excused from all work duties for the duration of their leave and is not paid for their time away from work.

Other factors that might determine if a sabbatical is unpaid include the length of the leave, the reason for the leave, and how long the employee has worked for the company.

For instance, an employee may be eligible for paid sabbatical leave after five years but is only eligible for unpaid leave prior to that. Employers may choose to offer unpaid sabbaticals if the leave is for recreational purposes. They may also offer paid sabbaticals for a defined period of time, after which employees are entitled to unpaid leave.‍

What Are the Rules for a Sabbatical Leave?

As sabbatical benefits aren’t usually part of statutory labor laws, they tend to be unique to each employer, so there aren’t any universal rules that must be followed. However, there are a few best practices employers should follow when creating a sabbatical leave program.

Your company should establish clear guidelines on what you’ll approve for sabbatical leave. Make sure to clearly state any restrictions on the length of leave permitted, the accepted reasons for leave, and any distinctions between eligibility criteria for paid and unpaid leave when necessary.

Next, establish guidelines so employees understand how to take a sabbatical. These guidelines should cover how employees need to request their leave, how their requests will be evaluated, and any obligations they must fulfill before the leave is granted. Transparency is vital, so make sure these guidelines are readily available and understood by employees.

Because sabbaticals are extended periods of leave, it’s crucial that your employees give adequate notice about their intent to take a sabbatical from work. After reviewing and approving the leave request, you can then make any necessary preparations ahead of time. This may include hiring a temporary employee or training current employees on any additional duties they’ll need to take over.

It’s worth noting that local labor laws and regulations may determine whether employees should still receive all their usual benefits, such as annual leave accrual, while on sabbatical leave. If you have a global team, it’s important to understand the distinctions between local laws and implement them correctly. Working with a global employment partner like Omnipresent can help you stay compliant.

Who's Eligible for Sabbatical Leave?

Eligibility for sabbatical leave is typically determined by the employer. Most employers who offer it require employees to have at least five years of service before they’re eligible. Meanwhile, some may only offer it for specific positions within the company.

How Long Is a Sabbatical Leave?

There is no predetermined length of time for a sabbatical, but an employer might set limits on the maximum time allowed for leave. Generally, sabbaticals are at least one month long and can last longer depending on the nature of the leave. For example, a sabbatical year may be used to complete an advanced degree, whereas a more recreational-oriented leave could be much shorter.‍

Additional Sabbatical Leave FAQs

We’ve already covered the most common and pertinent questions about sabbatical leave, but here are some additional FAQs relevant to both employees and employers.

Is Sabbatical Leave Required by Law?

Most countries don’t have any laws that require employers to offer sabbatical leave. It’s entirely up to employers if they want to offer it as a benefit or not.

Are Sabbaticals the Same as Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leaves?

While maternity, paternity, and parental leaves are also extended periods of leave, they are not the same as sabbatical leave. Maternity, paternity, and parental leave are all subject to different local labor laws all around the world. An employee’s use of sabbatical leave usually has no bearing on their use of maternity, paternity, and parental leave and vice versa.

Can Employers Refuse a Sabbatical Request?

Yes. As sabbatical leave is typically an optional benefit for companies to offer, employers are within their rights to refuse a sabbatical request. A strongly defined sabbatical leave policy will help avoid any confusion on what requests are acceptable.

Provide Compliant Employee Benefits Globally with Omnipresent

Managing employee benefits on a global scale can be really challenging — not to mention time-consuming. That’s where Omnipresent comes in.

Our global employment services help businesses like yours onboard, pay, and manage talent compliantly in over 160 countries and regions worldwide. We help provide competitive and compliant benefits packages so you can attract and retain top talent. By taking care of related HR administration, we give you the freedom to focus your time and energy on growing your business.

Book a free consultation with our team to get started.


The information on this page is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please see our disclaimer for more information.

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