Company sabbaticals – a right or a privilege?

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While the Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates four types of regulated leave to which employees are entitled – annual leave, sick leave, family responsibility leave and parental leave – employers may choose to offer their staff various other forms of leave which are not governed by legislation.

But, as Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, explains, this leave is granted in accordance with company policy and contracts, and must be viewed as a privilege and not a right.

This also applies to company sabbaticals, he continues. “A sabbatical is an extended break from work, which can be anything from one month to a year, which an employee uses to further their studies, travel, or even recover from job burnout.

“Sabbatical leave is not governed by legislation and how it is structured and applied is purely at the discretion of the employer. Matters such as which employees may be considered for a sabbatical, the length of the leave and whether they will be compensated during their break must all be covered in the company policy.

“Additionally, all rules pertaining to sabbaticals must be substantiated to prevent any feeling of discrimination or bias treatment among staff.”

Myburgh recommends that before employers implement any additional non-statutory leave types (such as study leave, cultural leave or sport leave) in their company, they conduct an in-depth analysis to identify the business risks with reference to operational requirements and the number of staff members required to achieve operational goals.

“For example, if an employee takes a long sabbatical and is away from the office for several months, would the employer still be able to meet its operational requirements?

“Another important factor to consider is that some forms of non-statutory leave – especially study leave – are offered by so many companies that many employees have come to believe it is required by legislation and employers are obligated to provide it. This is not the case; study leave is not compulsory and even if an employer does offer it, they can make their own determination thereon,” says Myburgh.

It is also advisable to keep abreast of legislative changes that impact on leave management.

Myburgh emphasises that employers familiarise themselves with the differences between BCEA and Bargaining Council or Sectoral Determination regulations, particularly where it applies to the governance of non-statutory leave.

This can only lead to improved operational efficiency and a more focused, productive and balanced work environment.