< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Flexible working arrangements - career break scheme: Notice

13 December 1999

Policy for flexible working arrangements

1. In their joint Report on the introduction of flexible working arrangements for University officers (Reporter, 1990-91, p. 363) the Council of the Senate and the General Board proposed a procedure in which University Officers and applicants for University appointments might request leave to work part-time while continuing to hold a full-time University office. The Council and the Board have reviewed some of those arrangements and have already agreed a policy into which University officers returning from maternity leave may begin work on a part-time basis of a minimum of 20 per cent, rising to at least 50 per cent within twelve months of the initial return to work (GBO.9907.0558 of 22 July 1999).

2. The Council and the Board have now agreed a further development to the flexible working policy which will allow University officers to take a career break.

3. Under the goals agreed by the Council and the General Board as part of the University's membership of Opportunity NOW (previously Opportunity 2000), there is a commitment to extending family-friendly policies (Notice, Reporter, 1998-99, p. 348, et seq) and specifically to giving further consideration to a career break scheme (goal xiii). A variety of flexible working practices are being developed in universities and other organizations which address this goal. Career breaks are a very common provision offered to staff who wish to retain a commitment to their organization and career whilst maintaining a long-term balance between their work and their family and domestic role. Career breaks may be a valuable tool in the retention of staff and in ensuring the well-being and efficiency of both the University and its individual members and staff.

4. The career break scheme

The career break scheme is a special category of leave under the flexible working arrangements granted to those with domestic responsibilities, provided that the Head of the Department or other institution or Chairman of the Faculty Board supports the request. Requests for leave for career breaks will be made in the usual way, via the Faculty Board.

The scheme, which is not an entitlement but may be requested, will cover leave for people in the following circumstances:

(i) After the conclusion of maternity leave;
(ii) In situations where a member of staff had exceptional responsibilities associated with a member of his or her family, or a partner, who was seriously ill and in need of full-time care;
(iii) Where a member of staff wished to spend more time caring for pre-school or school age children;
(iv) Where a member of staff had an elderly dependant relative in need of full-time care;
(v) Other unforeseen situations of a domestic kind which might arise from time to time.

4.1 General principles

All arrangements made under the career break scheme must be agreed according to the key criteria set out in the Joint Report of the Council of the Senate and the General Board on the introduction of flexible working arrangements for University officers (Reporter, 1990-91, p. 363, et seq), viz: that the arrangements will benefit the institution concerned, that adequate replacement cover can be provided; and that no additional cost will fall on University funds.

In any of the cases (i)-(v) listed above, the member of staff concerned may request leave in a special category under the flexible working arrangements, for a specified period, on the same terms and conditions as other leave granted under these arrangements (i.e. stipend and employer's contributions to superannuation and National Insurance paid pro rata), with the possibility of renewal up to an agreed maximum.

In all cases except that following maternity leave it is likely that the need to arrange a career break might arise relatively unexpectedly and possibly after a period of compassionate leave. Any officer granted compassionate leave or in circumstances where he or she could envisage needing to request a career break will be required by their Head of institution to keep closely in touch about their circumstances. The maximum period for any career break (including following maternity leave) is two years.

In all cases where a career break is permitted, the officer concerned must undertake, in advance and according to an agreed programme, to keep fully in touch with their duties and field of work. The means of doing this will vary accordingly to the nature of the duties, but the following principles apply:

For academic and research staff:

For academic-related staff:

For all staff:

The opportunity to keep in touch generally, to carry out research, to teach, to 'work shadow', or to undertake projects will be created by granting the officer leave to work a minimum of 10 per cent of full-time, i.e. the equivalent of one half a day a week. For academic staff this will provide the opportunity for research on a continuing basis throughout the year; for academic-related staff the time may be gathered into a period of days or weeks, allowing a specified period for work shadowing or project work (10 per cent might be gathered up as 23 days in a 46-week year). Academic staff who wish to teach, or whose Head of Department wished them to teach, might work 20 per cent of full-time, i.e. the equivalent of one day a week, with the second half day a week dedicated to teaching and its associated activities, i.e. planning, marking, etc. The monitoring of the contact and updating of expertise and knowledge will be carried out by the Head of the institution concerned who will also arrange for the appropriate support and advice necessary to be in place so as to ensure that the officer does not have to follow the programme in isolation and without appropriate support.

The reason for these principles is to ensure that the officer on leave retains a clear commitment to her or his duties and normal role, any work undertaken is appropriately remunerated, and the officer has the financial means to provide childcare or other cover whilst undertaking an appropriate level of work to keep in touch.

Each career break will be for a fixed percentage of full-time (either 10 or 20 per cent), not variable during the course of the career break, and for a fixed period. A firm commitment will be required on each side to the percentage and duration of the career break so that Heads of Departments and other institutions and Chairmen of Faculty Boards, as appropriate, have a clear understanding at the outset of the arrangements for which they have to provide cover.

A career break scheme is different and separate from maternity leave in the sense that maternity leave is an entitlement, but a career break is not an entitlement. However, it is recognized that a career break may be of particular benefit to a woman returning from maternity leave.

The whole scheme is also available to contract research staff supported on outside funds, subject to the needs of the project on which they are employed and the willingness of the sponsor to make the flexible arrangements which will be necessary.

5. Career breaks following maternity leave

A career break following maternity leave may be granted according to the general principles set out above. However, the two-year maximum grant of leave will apply following each child (so that one career break could merge with another). Any career break following maternity leave will be deemed to terminate automatically at the beginning of a grant of maternity leave for another child and any 'unexpired time' may not then be added to a second or subsequent career break.

A maternity career break will follow immediately on maternity leave and the maximum two-year period will include the full maternity leave entitlement of 18 weeks' paid leave and 27 weeks' unpaid leave (i.e. 104 weeks of the career break would include 45 weeks' paid and unpaid maternity leave).

An officer on maternity leave must indicate well before the completion of her 27 weeks of unpaid leave that she wishes to request a career break. In all cases where an officer believes she may wish to take advantage of a career break she must be encouraged to think about this option as early as possible in the maternity leave, in order to allow as much time as possible to plan for cover. As with other types of career breaks, the Head of the institution concerned must ensure that the officer keeps the institution fully informed of her circumstances.

The general principles outlined in paragraph 4.1 would in all respects apply to a career break following maternity leave.

A career break following maternity leave is available to contract research staff, subject, as specified above, to the needs of the project and the support of the sponsor.

Childcare advice is available to all those on a career break from the Childcare Office. Wherever possible, childcare provision in the University, which is set to increase, will be made available on a flexible basis for those needing half or one day a week childcare.

6. Financial arrangements

The financial arrangements for career breaks would follow in all respects those laid down in the existing policy on flexible working arrangements and unpaid leave of absence under Statute D, II, 6(b) and Statute D, II, 6(c) either by making an unestablished appointment, which might either be part-time (80 or 90 per cent) at the same level as, or full-time at a lower level than the officer on leave, for a fixed term coterminous with the period of the career break, or by 'buying-in' substitute teaching or assistance, or a combination of these methods. The cost of replacement arrangements must be met from the savings accruing from the grants of unpaid leave of absence and no additional cost must fall on the central funds as a result of the arrangement although these additional costs will be met (as at present) during paid maternity leave which precedes a career break. In cases of career breaks which are 'extensions' of maternity leave, institutions are strongly encouraged to make substitute appointments.

7. Other issues

Career breaks are available to University officers on fixed-term appointments, including University Assistant Lecturers.

7.1 Fixed-term appointments and assessment of performance

Statute D, II, 7 provides that:

The competent authority shall have power to determine whether any period, or part thereof, of an officer's dispensation or partial dispensation from duty under either of the foregoing sections 5 and 6 (i.e. sabbatical leave (D, II, 5) and sick leave, unpaid leave/secondment and leave to work part-time (D, II, 6)) shall be omitted in reckoning the limit of tenure fixed at the time of the officer's appointment or reappointment to his or her office.

Thus, while any break in employment of a significant period (i.e. six months or more) where it is a result of ill health or some other reason such as maternity leave or a career break, may lead to difficulty in assessing performance of duties when reappointment or promotion (e.g. upgrading a University Assistant Lectureship to a University Lectureship) are being considered, there is scope for flexibility in reckoning the limit of tenure. The primary consideration in this context is the need to have sufficient evidence of performance in the whole range of an officer's duties (e.g. for academic staff in teaching, research, and administration). An officer taking a career break will be in position to provide a certain amount of evidence, because of the requirement for keeping in touch with his or her duties and particularly for publishing papers, but this may not be sufficient for an Appointments Committee to feel able to appoint for the whole period in a fixed-term appointment such as a Computer or Technical Officership, or (in the case of a University Lectureship) to the retirement age. Thus special consideration may need to be given to offices on a fixed-term basis, even when renewable.

The principle already exists whereby a limited-term reappointment may be made after a probationary period, or in a fixed-term appointment, for reasons other than poor performance (e.g. sick leave or maternity leave). This principle is extended to include career breaks and extended periods of compassionate leave. The provisions of Statute D, II, 7 allow the alternative possibility of effectively extending the limit of tenure for most fixed-term appointments.

The same principle will be applied where necessary to University Assistant Lectureships which are made for a maximum of five years and thus, although the implications of taking a career break are particularly significant for those appointed to five-year, fixed-term University Assistant Lectureships, it should be possible for a career break to be accommodated under the provisions of Statute D, II, 7.

Even so it is important for Heads of Departments to remind University Assistant Lecturers contemplating a career break that a high standard of performance is necessary both in teaching and research, but that research performance is particularly crucial and probably the most difficult to assess by their Head of Department. This must be considered in the context of the General Board agreeing that there should be only two opportunities to put forward proposals for upgrading of University Assistant Lectureships: to take effect from 1 January of the officer's fifth year of tenure of the University Assistant Lectureship, and, in the case of an accelerated proposal, to take effect from 1 January of the officer's third year of tenure. (At the same time Appointments Committees are advised that a period of maternity leave should not automatically cause a delay in this promotions timetable provided they are satisfied they have enough evidence of research performance and the General Board would be open to requests for flexibility in this regard.)

7.2 Performance issues

Each case would need to be considered individually but career breaks may not be available to officers whose performance was a source of concern if the break was judged to be detrimental to activating the necessary standards for reappointment. The need to monitor performance in all cases, not just in probationary periods, is thus emphasized. A difficult situation will arise if an officer is informed that he or she may not request a career break on grounds of performance in a situation where there had been no previous indication to the officer that performance was not satisfactory in any way. On the other hand, an officer whose performance was suffering because of over-strain resulting from difficulties attached to combining full- or part-time work and unusual domestic or family responsibilities might benefit from a well-managed career break.

8. Application procedure

An officer wishing to take a career break must make the request to the Council or the General Board (via the Faculty Board) as appropriate, with the support of the Head of her or his institution. The request must be made with reasonable notice, e.g. for permitting reasonable arrangements for cover in place. The exception to this would be a career break which followed a period of compassionate leave.

Contract research staff should make the request to the Personnel Division via their Principal Investigator and with the consent of the Head of the institution.

If any member of staff felt that the Head of the institution was being unreasonable in failing to discuss or support such a request he or she should seek advice from the Personnel Division.

9. Keeping in touch

Any officer granted a career break will be obliged to undertake to keep in touch with his or her duties and field of work. In the context of the general principles outlined above, this undertaking requires the Head of the institution and the officer agreeing, before the start of the leave:

All work carried out must be accommodated within the 10 or 20 per cent of part-time work agreed in order to ensure that all such work is appropriately remunerated and that agreed programmes do not require a commitment over and above the 10 or 20 per cent.

Key points in the programme of keeping in touch will be the importance of agreement in advance of the general programme between the Head of the institution and the officer, the plans for support and contact for the officer (especially the need to ensure that he or she does not become isolated or cut off from departmental activities) and the monitoring of the officer's undertaking. The officer's appraisal will play an important part in this process and none of what is outlined above should be more than what a Head of the institution might expect to undertake in supporting and monitoring the contribution of a member of his or her institution at any time.

The same principle applies equally to contract research staff.

10. Paternity leave

It is possible for a male University officer to seek a career break in the same way as for a woman following maternity leave, or in any of the other circumstances outlines above.

11. Leave for academic and non-academic purposes (excluding sabbatical leave)

Leave of absence (excluding sabbatical leave) is granted under Statute D, II, 6. The Statutes provide that the competent authority shall determine whether or not the whole or part of the normal stipend is payable, making it possible for leave such as paternity leave or compassionate leave to be granted with full stipend.

There are a variety of different forms of leave and in the context of this notice summary leave may be granted for the following reasons and with the following conditions:

Statute D, II, 6(b) Stipend payable Conditions
Maternity leave* 18 weeks on full pay
Up to 27 weeks without stipend
No remunerative work to be carried out
Paternity leave*
(max. two weeks)
In full No additional cost to the University
Compassionate leave In full For reasonable periods, possibly up to 6 months
Without stipend If further periods are needed
Leave for academic purposes
(Statutes and Ordinances, p. 601)
Unpaid (An officer may remain on the payroll where a Research Council or other funding body provides reimbursement of stipend costs or cost of replacement cover.) No additional cost to the University
Secondment leave
(Statutes and Ordinances, p. 601)
Unpaid At request of another institution for administrative or organizational reason
No additional cost to the University

* i.e. savings from the officer's stipend would be placed in a Departmental F09 account to be used at the Head of Department's discretion to cover replacement costs for the officer.

12. Summary of all types of leave

For additional clarification the table below shows all types of leave available to University offices under Statute D.

Statute and type of leave Stipend payable Conditions
D, II, 5
Sabbatical
According to the rules for payment of stipend whilst on leave under Statute D, II, 5 (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 600) The leave must be used for study
Heads of Departments may request information about proposed research beforehand and results afterwards
D, II, 6(a)
Sick leave
For a period up to six months which may be renewed by the competent authority which will fix the stipend to be paid Medical certificates must be supplied
After the first six months medical reports are requested
D, II, 6(b)
Maternity leave
18 weeks on full pay
Up to 27 weeks without stipend
No remunerative work to be carried out
Paternity leave (max. two weeks) In full No additional cost to the University
Compassionate leave In full For reasonable periods, possibly up to 6 months
Without stipend If further periods are needed
Leave for academic purposes
(Statutes and Ordinances, p. 601)
Unpaid (An officer may remain on the payroll where a Research Council or other funding body provides reimbursement of stipend costs or cost of replacement cover.) No additional cost to the University
Secondment leave
(Statutes and Ordinances, p. 601)
Unpaid At request of another institution for administrative or organizational reason
No additional cost of the University
Short leave
2-14 days
In full To cover brief absences during Full Term for conferences, etc.
May be authorized by Head of institution
15-28 days In full To cover slightly longer absences, which must be less than half a term (28 nights)
Must be authorized by a General Board Division officer on behalf of the General Board and with approval of the Faculty Board
Leave to work away from Cambridge In full To cover periods spent away from Cambridge because primary work site is another geographical location e.g. observatory, field work
Head of Department and Faculty Board must support request
D, II, 6(c)
Part-time working under the flexible working arrangements
Pro rata Faculty Board or other authority must support request
No additional cost to the University

< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Cambridge University Reporter, 15 December 1999
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.