offering career breaks could end up in court if company policies for gap years
are not water tight, a legal expert has warned.
are increasingly offering employees career breaks, believing they are covered
by European legislation. But they are not, and organisations need to ensure
that they have clear-cut policies in place.
to Personnel Today’s sister publication Employers’ Law, Patricia Leighton, the
Jean Monnet professor of
European law at the University
said: "There is no European legislation on career breaks and what it comes
down to is basic contract law," she said.
might be dressed up as flexible working, work-life balance and family-friendly
policies and all the rest of it, but, at the end of the day, we are dealing
with basic employment contract law."
she warned that harmonisation, or developing standard procedures for career
break policies, may be a long way off -just as it took considerable time to
develop standards for maternity leave.
was very clear about the legal status of that, and that’s taken 20 years to
hammer down," Leighton said – noting that it was the European Courts of
Justice had been instrumental in making the position of women on maternity
leave "pretty water tight".
Jeffreys, a partner who
specialises in employment law at CMS Cameron McKenna, said employers must talk
through the implications of the career breaks carefully with the individual so
the employee knows what to expect if and when they come return.
said that if an employer did not do this, they ran the risk of having legal
problems later on.
organisations are allowing staff
breaks of anything up to five years. The Metropolitan Police, for instance,
currently has 226 officers on sabbatical leave. Companies
like Asda, meanwhile,
continue to blaze a trail when it comes to innovative work-life balance policies,
offering ‘Benidorm Leave’
for the over 50s (up to three months, unpaid).
Questions HR must ask
Does the break count as continuous service?
What is the effect on benefits?
What happens to that individual when they come back?