In professional life, there may be times when employees need a longer break from work. One possible solution for the professional break is unpaid special leave. We show you everything you need to know about sabbaticals.

What is a sabbatical?

The sabbatical, also called a sabbatical year, is a form of unpaid special leave that employees can request from their superiors. The length of the sabbatical is negotiated individually between the employee and the employer. Usually the sabbatical lasts between one month and one year. It is common for employees to receive a guarantee with the sabbatical that they will be able to return to their old job after the time off.

There is a legal regulation on sabbaticals only for civil servants and employees in the public sector. They can take up to one year of unpaid special leave. There is no such entitlement for employees subject to social insurance contributions. Whether and how often a sabbatical is granted is at the discretion of the employer.

Good to know: The term "Sabbatical" comes from English and refers to the Hebrew word "Sabbath". In the Bible, the Sabbath refers to the day of rest after the creation of the world. Transferred to the sabbatical, working people simply take a "time out" from work or rest.

How long can a sabbatical last?

Colloquially, the sabbatical in Germany is also called a "sabbatical year". This is no coincidence; the sabbatical is often agreed for a year. But there are also so-called "short sabbaticals" of a few weeks. Some companies even allow their employees to take unpaid special leave for longer than a year. Usually, the duration of the sabbatical depends on how long the employees have been working for a company.

Who is entitled to a sabbatical?

Employees in the private sector have no legal right to a sabbatical. Nevertheless, corresponding regulations can be laid down in a collective agreement. As a rule, sabbaticals are granted in larger companies. These companies can compensate for the absence of employees more easily than smaller companies.

Civil servants can take a sabbatical through a special arrangement and have the right to do so. They agree on part-time work with their employer and reduce their working hours by up to 50 per cent. Despite the reduction, they initially continue to work full-time. In this way, they can "save up" hours that are credited to a time account. The holiday entitlements thus acquired can be used at a stretch as a sabbatical. The right to a sabbatical is guaranteed by law for civil servants.

Employees in the public sector can save hours in a "long-term account" in a similar way to civil servants.

Sabbatical calculation - different models at a glance

There are various ways in which employees can realise a sabbatical:

  • Unpaid leave: Employees can take unpaid leave from their employer for a certain period of time. However, this model has the disadvantage for employees that they not only have to forego their salary, but also have to bear the costs for health and social insurances themselves.
  • Special leave: If the sabbatical is granted as unpaid special leave and it does not last longer than four weeks, the employer can continue to pay the social security contributions. To extend the sabbatical, annual leave can be attached. Employees would then have two months for their sabbatical.
  • Salary sacrifice: Employees can agree with their employers that they will receive only four-fifths of their salary over a period of four years. Then they can take a one-year sabbatical in the fifth year and continue to receive their salary during this time, because they have waived exactly this part of their salary in the previous four years. The advantage of a salary sacrifice sabbatical is that both the job is kept and the salary continues to be paid during the sabbatical year.
  • Time accounts: Employees can "save up" hours in different ways that they can use later for the sabbatical. Depending on the model, this can be overtime or bonuses such as Christmas bonuses that are converted into days off and "saved up"

Regardless of which option is chosen, employees should negotiate the conditions for the sabbatical in detail with their superiors and preferably stipulate them in a contract.

Sabbatical and salary: Employers usually have to regulate this individually

Independent of a sabbatical, companies can strengthen employee loyalty with the help of employee benefits. Circula offers e.g. the mobility budget or the meal allowance to support employees during a workation.

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