NHS Scotland Once for Scotland workforce policies - work-life balance: consultation

The NHSScotland 'Once for Scotland' Workforce policies programme is designed to review and transform existing workforce policies (previously known as Partnership Information Network (PIN) Policies). This consultation focuses on the refreshed supporting the work-life balance suite of policies.

3. Career Break Policy

3.1. Aim

3.1.1. To enable employees to take an extended unpaid career break and return to work in the NHS later.

3.2. Scope

3.2.1. This policy applies to all employees with at least 12 months' continuous service with one or more NHS employers.

3.2.2. This policy complies with current legislation and meets the aims of the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010

3.2.3. NHSScotland staff should not use this policy to deal with short-term emergencies. It would be more appropriate to use other forms of leave, such as special leave. [Special Leave Policy]

3.3. Definitions

3.3.1. A career break is an extended unpaid break for a specified time to allow for situations such as:

  • caring for a dependent
  • continuing childcare following a period of maternity or adoption leave
  • education and training
  • voluntary work

3.3.2. Keeping in touch (KIT) days help employees on a career break keep up to date with any changes at work or maintain their professional registration where appropriate. They also support employees in returning to the workplace after a career break.

3.3.3. Scottish Public Pensions Agency (SPPA) is the government body that manages pensions for NHSScotland employees.

3.4. Roles and responsibilities

3.4.1. There is a range of standard expectations which underpin all policies. Read more about standard roles and responsibilities. In addition, the following specific responsibilities apply to this policy.

3.4.2. Manager

3.4.3. The manager should:

  • apply the policy in a fair and consistent way
  • record the agreed leave on the appropriate systems
  • agree on the method and regularity of contact during the career break with the employee
  • offer opportunities for KIT activities
  • support employees returning to the workplace in their previous post or to a similar vacant post at the same grade

3.4.4. Employee

3.4.5. The employee should:

  • fully consider the implications and potential loss of any contractual rights before committing to a career break
  • get information about the impact on their pension from the SPPA
  • advise their manager of any changes in circumstances, including change of address or contact details
  • retain professional registration, meet revalidation requirements, and maintain professional knowledge throughout their career break

3.5. Procedure

3.5.1. Employees should not use the Career Break Policy to take up alternative employment. However, there may be specific circumstances where alternative employment is approved, such as:

  • moving abroad for a fixed period due to a partner's work commitments
  • undertaking bank work shifts to maintain clinical skills
  • work while undertaking further education to achieve professional qualifications

3.5.2. The minimum period for a career break is 3 months, and the maximum is 5 years. Career breaks can be taken as a single period or as more than one break. However, the total periods of absence cannot exceed 5 years. Employees can extend their career break to a maximum of 5 years with appropriate notice and mutual agreement.

3.5.3. Employees should be made aware that there is no guarantee of reemployment however every effort should be made to identify a suitable alternative post for the employee to return to.

3.5.4. How to apply

3.5.5. Employees who request a career break should discuss it with their manager in the first instance. Discussions should consider the needs of the service and the employee.

3.5.6. If they wish to proceed with an application, the employee should complete the Career break application form. [form to request a career break] Employees should send their completed form to their manager at least 3 months before their requested career break start date.

3.5.7. The manager must acknowledge the employee's request within 7 calendar days. They should then arrange a meeting to discuss it with the employee within 28 calendar days. If necessary and agreed upon by all parties, the manager can extend the timing of the meeting.

3.5.8. The manager and employee should agree on the method and regularity of contact during the career break. The employee is not required to attend KIT days, but the manager should offer them to support employees:

  • returning to the workplace
  • maintaining professional registration requirements

3.5.9. Up to 10 days each year can be taken as KIT days. KIT days are paid as if at work.

3.5.10. Agreement

3.5.11. When the manager agrees to the employee's career break, both parties should sign a Career break agreement. [template for written agreement for career break to be agreed and signed by both parties]

3.5.12. The written agreement should confirm the employee's career break period.

3.5.13. Refusal of the request

3.5.14. An employee's request for a career break should be supported where possible. A manager should only refuse a request for valid service or organisational reasons such as the adverse impact on:

  • service delivery and quality
  • work colleagues

3.5.15. A manager may decide to refuse the employee's request. If so, their decision, including the reasons for refusal, should be confirmed in writing within 7 calendar days. More detail is provided in the following documents:

  • Guide for managers [guide to help managers use and understand the Career Break Policy]
  • Guide for employees [guide to help employees use and understand the Career Break Policy]

3.5.16. Appeal process

3.5.17. The employee will have a right to appeal within 14 calendar days against the decision to refuse the request. When exercising this right, the employee must identify the reason for their appeal.

3.5.18. The appeal panel Chair, in accordance with the scheme of delegation, will be responsible for identifying membership of the appeal hearing panel.

3.5.19. The appeal panel Chair will also inform all parties of the arrangements in writing no later than 14 calendar days before the hearing.

3.5.20. Outcome

3.5.21. Following the appeal hearing, the Chair will write to all relevant parties within 7 calendar days to confirm the outcome. The letter should include the rationale behind any decision regarding the employee's grounds for appeal.

3.5.22. The outcome of the appeal will be final for this application.

3.5.23. Contractual issues

3.5.24. A career break will continue to count as continuous NHS service for statutory purposes. However, the break period will not count as reckonable service towards service-based entitlements such as:

  • incremental credit
  • annual leave
  • sick leave
  • redundancy

3.5.25. Any periods of NHS employment during the break, such as KIT days, will count towards these service-based entitlements. If an employee on a career break returns to work afterwards, they will not lose their entitlements accrued before the break.

3.5.26. Employees may choose not to return to NHS employment after their career break. Service-based entitlements accrued before their career break will be subject to any break in service rules if they return to NHS employment at a later date.

3.5.27. There may be an entitlement to statutory sick pay but no occupational sick pay during the career break.

3.5.28. For a limited time, members can continue to pay into their NHS pension scheme. The employer will continue to make contributions during this time. Before requesting a career break, members of the scheme should check the potential impact on their pension with SPPA.

3.5.29. Employees with a lease car should review their contract to check the implications of a career break. It may be possible to continue the lease, but the employee may be responsible for ongoing costs. A fee may apply if the employee terminates the lease.

3.5.30. Organisational change

3.5.31. The Organisational Change Policy applies to employees on a career break. Where redeployment attempts are unsuccessful, redundancy procedures will apply. Employers will calculate redundancy payments using NHS Terms and Conditions guidance.

3.5.32. An employer could propose organisational change during an employee's career break that impacts the:

  • agreed role they will return to
  • range of opportunities available on return

3.5.33. In that case, the individual must be:

  • advised of the change
  • consulted with regarding the change
  • offered the opportunity to return to work and be considered within the affected cohort

3.5.34. Return to work

3.5.35. Employees who wish to return early from a career break should normally provide 3 months' notice to allow for a post to be identified. The manager should accommodate an early return to work if they can support it with less than 3 months' notice.

3.5.36. On return from a career break the following apply:

  • if the employee 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, every effort will be made to place the employee in a post of a similar grade and responsibility to that held prior to the career break

3.5.37. For career breaks of more than a year, the employee and the manager should meet to start the redeployment process 3 months before it ends. The manager will support the employee in finding a post.

3.5.38. When returning, the employee may need a period of induction depending on the length of their career break.

3.5.39. It may be possible to offer the employee re-employment on a part-time basis for up to 3 months to ease their transition back to work. They would then return to the normal hours for the role. The option of temporary part-time re-employment should be discussed with the relevant manager when planning the employee's return to work.

3.5.40. The employee will be paid in line with the terms and conditions of the post that they return to.

3.5.41. If the employee decides they do not wish to return to work at any point during the career break, they should resign from their role. Employees should send their written resignation to their manager no later than 3 months before their return date.

3.6. Supporting documentation

It is proposed that the supporting documents listed below will be developed to support the policy. Supporting documents are not part of the consultation. These will be drafted following the consultation when responses have been analysed and the policy is developed in a final draft.

Employee guide

Descriptor: guide to help employees use and understand the Career Break Policy.

Manager guide

Descriptor: guide to help managers use and understand the Career Break Policy.

Career break policy flowchart

Descriptor: visual and text alternative flowcharts outlining the key steps in the Career Break Policy.

Career break application form

Descriptor: form to request a career break.

Career break agreement

Descriptor: template for written agreement for career break to be agreed and signed by both parties.

3.7. Consultation questions

We are inviting responses to this consultation using the Scottish Government's consultation hub. The following questions are set.

In your response, all questions have the option to answer yes or no. You are invited to provide further comment in a free text box. If you wish to make specific reference to a section of the policy, please quote the relevant numbered line in this consultation document.

1. Do you feel there are any gaps in the policy?

2. Do you feel there are any gaps in the proposed list of supporting documents?

3. Do you have any other comments to make on the policy?

4. Do you have any views on the potential impacts of this policy on equalities groups?

It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. These are protected characteristics under the Equality Act, 2010.


Email: Lynn.Hunter@gov.scot

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