Sabbatical is a term unknown to many people. It was introduced in Slovakia by international companies and it defines a long-term paid or unpaid leave from work. Employees use this leave primarily as a means to prevent burnout or for any variety of family reasons. These could include, for example, accompanying a partner in a short-term work relocation or long-term care for an ill relative. Often, sabbatical is preceded by working from home, so-called “home office”, or reducing full-time employment to part-time so that an employee can smoothly pass his or her work agenda on to colleagues and step away, without upheavals, from the full pace of work.
In Europe, sabbatical first appeared in Finland in 1996, then in 2002 Sweden adopted the practice for state employees, who were provided with a possibility of sabbatical in a nationwide behavioral test which lasted until 2005. Currently, sabbatical is popular in Nordic countries though it is not expressly regulated in their legislation. Its regulation in legislation in Western countries varies. The UK, for example, does not provide for sabbatical in legislation, but it does help employees with a short note on its conditions (which should be explained by the employer to the employee prior to sabbatical) and notifies employees of the importance of a written agreement. France, for example, provides for sabbatical (congé sabbatique) in legislation, permitting a duration of five to 11 months, but with an obligation to continue contributions to the social security system of the country.
Length of sabbatical varies, but is typically anywhere from one month up to one year. Because Slovak legislation does not expressly provide for this employee benefit, it is necessary for the employer and the employee to agree on sabbatical in the form of granting paid or unpaid leave from work. The employer can also provide for sabbatical in its internal regulations, whereby it informs employees well in advance of the conditions of its granting. At the same time, employers need to remember to not discriminate when deciding whether to grant sabbatical – the decision must be made objectively. Objective criteria provided for by the employer may include length of employment or seniority of the employee. In any case, conditions of sabbatical must be agreed upon by the employee and the employer in advance to avoid unnecessary disputes. The first factor to agree upon is whether, during sabbatical, the employee will be paid regular wages or will take an unpaid leave from work. If not agreed in advance, the employee is not entitled to wages during sabbatical. It is also advisable to agree in advance on the use of employee benefits such as company cell phone, computer, company car, pass to fitness center, etc.
In addition, a duty to pay (national insurance) contributions is not necessarily suspended during sabbatical. In the case of paid leave, the payment duty still applies for the needs of social security insurance and the employer will continue to make contributions to Sociálna poisťovňa (the Social Insurance Agency in Slovakia). In the case of unpaid leave, the employer must inform the Social Insurance Agency of an interruption in insurance. Termination of social security insurance does not exclude the possibility of an employee becoming a voluntary self-payer.
The situation is similar with health insurance prepayments. Paid leave is subject to health insurance prepayments under the Act on Health Insurance – an insuree does not cease to be the employee under the Act and the employer has an obligation to continue contributions for this employee. In unpaid leave, the employee becomes a self-payer – he or she is obliged to register as a self-payer with the health insurance company within eight days from the commencement of unpaid leave and pay the insurance prepayments.
With the increased popularity of sabbatical in Slovakia labor law regulations may need to be revised to handle this phenomenon. Whether or not this will actually be the case is a question of several years and depends on the development of our society.