36.1 NHS employers should provide all staff with access to an employment break scheme.
36.2 The scheme should be agreed between employers and local staff representatives.
36.3 The scheme should be viewed with other sections in this handbook, particularly those relating to flexible working, balancing work and personal life and provisions for carers, as part of the commitment to arrangements which enable employees to balance paid work with their other commitments and responsibilities.
36.4 The scheme should also enable employers to attract and retain the experience of staff, consistent with the NHS commitment to the provision of high quality healthcare.
36.5 The scheme should provide for people to take a longer period away from work than that provided for by the parental leave and other leave arrangements.
36.6 The scheme should explicitly cover the main reasons for which employment breaks can be used, including childcare, eldercare, care for another dependant, training, study leave or work abroad. It should also indicate that other reasons will be considered on their merits.
36.7 People on employment breaks will not normally be allowed to take up paid employment with another employer, except where, for example, work overseas or charitable work could broaden experience. In such circumstances written authority from the employer would be necessary.
36.8 The employment break scheme should normally be open to all employees who have a minimum of 12 months of service.
36.9 Applications should be submitted in writing and notice periods should be clearly stated in an agreement between the employee and employer.
Length of break
36.10 The maximum length of break should be five years.
36.11 It should be possible to take breaks, either as a single period or as more than one period.
36.12 The minimum length of break should be three months.
36.13 The length of any break should balance the needs of the applicant with the needs of the service.
36.14 The scheme should have provision for breaks to be extended with appropriate notice, or for early return from breaks.
36.15 All breaks should be subject to an agreement between the employer and applicant before the break begins (see also separate provisions in Section 12). The agreement should cover:
- the effect of the break on various entitlements related to length of service;
- a guarantee that, if the applicant returns to work within one year, the same job will be available, as far as is reasonably practicable;
- if the break is longer than one year, the applicant may return to as similar a job as possible;
- return to work at the equivalent salary level, reflecting increases awarded during the break;
- the notice period required before the return to work should be two months if the break is less than a year and six months if the break is more than a year;
- arrangements for keeping in touch during the break;
- requirements on the applicant to keep up to date with their relevant professional registration needs, including attendance at specified training courses and conferences, and any assistance the employer may give in the support of this;
- training arrangements for re-induction to work;
- any other conditions required either by the employer or the applicant;
- NHS pension arrangements during the break. Further information for Scheme members in England and Wales can be obtained from the NHS Pensions website at www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/Pensions. Members in Northern Ireland should refer to the HSC Pension Service website www.hscpensions.hscni.net. Members in Scotland should refer to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency circular 2009/13 which can be found on their website www.sppa.gov.uk
Return to work
36.16 Applicants should not have to resign to take an employment break, although there will be a change to the contract of employment.
36.17 The period of the break should count toward continuous employment for statutory purposes.
36.18 Other provisions depending upon length of service, i.e. contractual redundancy payments, leave entitlements etc, should be suspended for the period of the break (see also separate provisions in Section 12).
36.19 Applicants should be entitled to a written reason for the refusal of any application.
36.20 Applicants may resort to the grievance procedure if a request for a break is refused.
Monitoring and review
36.21 All records of applications and decisions should be kept for a minimum of twelve months.
36.22 The operation of the scheme should be monitored annually by employers, in partnership with local staff representatives. This will include consideration of diversity data.
Pay circular (AforC):1/2012 amendment number 25