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Everything You Need to Know About Sabbatical Leave

Published August 16, 2022 (last updated on February 27, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer


Taking a sabbatical is a way to reduce stress, encourage personal growth and improve mental wellbeing. It allows professionals and employees to take more than the standard leave allowance. 51.9% of Australian companies allow employees to go on unpaid leave for 1 month of longer.

Below, we explain the meaning of sabbatical, types of sabbaticals, and implementing the leave policy for your business.

What is a sabbatical?

A lot of people wonder about the exact meaning of a sabbatical. A sabbatical is basically an extended, approved period of leave from your full-time role. It can be termed as a career break, depending on your intention. The difference is a sabbatical requires an employee to return to their original employer after their leave or sabbatical is over.

During this break, employees may choose to pursue personal interests, travel, rest, or recover from the stress of employment.

Sabbatical entitlements differ from employer to employer. There is no statutory entitlement to sabbatical leave in Australia, so it’s up to individual employers and companies to decide if they want to grant this to employees. It is always worth implementing a policy about sabbatical leave.

Sabbaticals are rare in the private sector but common for academics, especially professors. They use this form of leave to pursue further research, gain industry experience, or study.

Types of Sabbaticals

There are various types of sabbaticals employees can consider or receive:

  • Personal- This is when employees want to take a break, rest, or use the time to focus on their mental wellbeing

  • Medical- If an employee needs considerable time off due to their health, a medical sabbatical can be considered

  • Paid- Paid sabbaticals are when a company offers to pay them a percentage of their pay

  • Unpaid- Employees are not required to be paid on a sabbatical so they can have unpaid sabbaticals

How long is a sabbatical?

The length of the sabbatical is determined by employers according to the terms in their respective policies. Companies use sabbaticals to keep employees from leaving or to encourage employees to pursue personal and professional development. For example, Deloitte offers both paid and unpaid sabbatical options.

Sabbatical Leave Policy for Your Business

While it can be easy for bigger companies to consider sabbatical requests, smaller businesses and employers may find it difficult. However, you also need to look at the bigger picture.

In small businesses, employees often juggle multiple roles and duties. They go above and beyond their conventional job titles to ensure the business is a success. Having a sabbatical policy is a good reward for dedicated employees. Companies that offer sabbatical leave find reduced employee turnover. Turnover can be costly as it means you must spend to recruit, hire, and train new employees. By allowing long term employees to opt for a sabbatical you ensure their loyalty is rewarded.

Ideally, you should have a sabbatical leave policy. The policy can outline eligibility, paid or unpaid options, how to apply, timeline, duration, and response process. You can also reach out to Employsure who have helped thousands of business owners across Australia to implement policies around leave entitlements.

Do Your Employees Need a Sabbatical?

Research has suggested that the more that managers supported their employees’ work/life balance, the less likely those employees were to take a sabbatical.

If your employees feel you are concerned about and support their wellbeing, it forms positive emotions towards you and the business. They reciprocate by engaging and working towards creating a work/life balance instead of taking a long break.

You can hold regular check-ins, mental wellbeing seminars, offer mental wellness days, and discuss work capacities with your employees. When they feel acknowledged and appreciated at work there will be less conflict and a reduced need for a sabbatical.

Sabbatical vs Long Service Leave

Sabbatical leave is not the same as long service leave because it does not accrue on the employee’s time as an employee of the company. Some companies only grant sabbatical leave to employees they have been employed for a set number of years. However, the amount of leave granted does not directly correspond to their employment at the company.

Sabbatical leave and long service leave are both types of extend leave granted above standard annual leave allowances.

Can an employer refuse a sabbatical?

Sabbaticals are rare and often a privilege offered only to dedicated or outstanding employees. An employer can refuse a request for a sabbatical. This is why you need a sabbatical leave policy.

Is sabbatical leave paid?

Sabbatical leave is normally a type of paid leave with companies either paying a percentage of the full salary or the entire full salary. They can also be unpaid depending on the circumstances.

Employsure can help you figure if you need a sabbatical leave policy or the right way to respond to these requests. Call our 24/7 FREE Advice line today.

Managing Absenteeism and Leave

Whether you’re dealing with unauthorized absences, managing absenteeism or understanding leave entitlements, our factsheet will help you understand what to do when things go wrong. 

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