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EXPLAINED: How to take long-term leave from work in Sweden

Most people have probably felt at some point that they'd benefit from a long-term break from their work, and in Sweden there are several ways you can do that, safe in the knowledge that your job will be waiting for you when you return.

EXPLAINED: How to take long-term leave from work in Sweden
Not just for parents: Swedish law entitles employees to extended leave from work in many situations. Photo: Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se

Employers in Sweden must give employees a minimum of 25 days’ paid holiday (and unlike in many countries, they can get in trouble if at least 20 of those days aren’t taken). Sweden’s generous parental leave law is well known, but what you may not have realised is that it’s also possible to take long-term leave from work for several other reasons, ranging from study to travel.

If you want to study

If you’re keen to learn something new or even retrain in a different field, you are often allowed to take extended time off to do this. The applicable law here is the Study Leave Act or Lag (1974:981) om arbetstagares rätt till ledighet för utbildning, which states the right to take up to six months’ leave in order to study applies to anyone who has been employed by one company for at least six months. Yes, that means anyone: whether you work full-time or part-time, at a workplace of any size in any sector.

This leave is unpaid, but guarantees you the right to return to your job after the period of study, and your employer must give you the same or equivalent duties and pay you the same salary. This does not have to be in any way related to the field you work in (although of course you may well learn transferable skills). So if you want to pursue a passion for farming, yoga, or anything else you can think of, it’s possible to do that. Independent study doesn’t count, though; you need to be following a specific course, or studying towards a certain qualification.


You can take leave to study any subject you choose. Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

The employer can choose to defer this leave, meaning you might not be able to take it as soon as you want to. But if you have not been allowed to take the leave two years after first making the request (or one year, if the leave you requested amounted to one week or less), you can ask a court to investigate the decision. If you are a union member and/or your workplace has a kollektivavtal (collective agreement), the employer has to grant the leave within six months, or receive union approval for the postponement.

And if you decide, after starting, that the study programme wasn’t for you, you have the right to break off the period of study early and return to your job.

Another law that is especially relevant to new arrivals in Sweden is Lag (1986:163) om rätt till ledighet för utbildning i svenska för invandrare (Law on the right to leave for training in Swedish for Immigrants). Under this law, if an employee gets a place on a municipal-run SFI course (meaning that they fulfill the requirements of being an immigrant who does not speak Swedish), the employer must allow them to attend and to count this time as working time. If you wish to take advantage of this, you need to inform your employer at least one month before the planned start of the leave, and you cannot have your position terminated as a result.

If you want to try out a new business idea

This is perhaps one of the most surprising policies: the opportunity to take leave in order to set up your own company. The relevant law is Lag (1997:1293) om rätt till ledighet för att bedriva näringsverksamhet (Law on the right to leave to conduct business operations), which says that your employer must allow you up to six months off work if you want to try to start up your own company.

A few restrictions apply. As with the study leave, this is unpaid leave, you must have been working for the employer for at least six months before taking the leave, and the employer is able to refuse it only if it would mean “significant inconvenience” to their own business. You can also only take this type of leave once per employer, and the company you’re setting up cannot be a competitor of your employer.

To take advantage of this leave, you need to inform your employer at least three months in advance. Again, you are entitled by law to return to your previous role and salary, with the same or equivalent responsibilities, once the period of leave is over. And if for some reason you decide to cancel the leave part-way through, you are entitled to return to your job, though your employer can postpone your return by up to one month after you ask to come back.


If you’ve been dreaming of starting your own business, there’s the chance to try it out without risking your current job. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebanksweden.se

If you’re stressed

You might get to a point where you need extended time off not to pursue a new venture, but simply to take care of your own mental health and recover from stress or burnout. 

This is addressed under the same law that guarantees you extended paid leave for any other long-term sickness or injury that affects your capacity to work. That means you’ll need a doctor’s note for leave longer than a week, but you are entitled to stay off work for as long as the condition affects your ability to carry out your job. It’s the Swedish Social Insurance Agency that makes this judgment.

You’ll be paid at least 80 percent of your salary from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, up to a maximum of 810 kronor per day, but some kollektivavtal will entitle you to more than this. You’ll continue to receive sickness benefit at 80 percent of the qualifying income for the first full year, after which the amount is reduced to 75 percent.

If you’re sick for longer than 60 days, your employer is required to work on a plan for your return to work in order to ensure this can take place smoothly and with enough support. After 90 days, you will only receive the benefit if the Swedish Social Insurance Agency makes the assessment that you’re medically unable to carry out any work your employer can offer, and after 180 days, you will only receive it if you are unable to perform any work on the regular labour market, rather than just at your original employer.

If you have a family emergency

Emergencies in the family can’t be planned for, and Swedish law acknowledges that fact.

If you need to take time off due to family illness, an accident, or other “pressing family reasons” that require your presence, you have the right to do that under the Lag (1998:209) om rätt till ledighet av trängande familjeskäl (law on the right to leave due to pressing family reasons). There’s no minimum length of time you need to have been employed in order to be entitled to this.

The pressing circumstances include severe illness or injury of a close family member; not just immediate family, but also grandparents, nieces or nephews, and in-laws for example (check your kollektivavtal, which often defines the term ‘close relative’). It could also apply to attending a funeral, or time needed to sort out the estate of a deceased relative.


Swedish law guarantees you can take time off work to be with seriously ill or injured relatives. Photo: rawpixel.com/Pexels

The law does not guarantee that you will be paid during this leave, but some kollektivavtal (or employment contracts) include clauses that guarantee you pay for a certain number of days. 

This law usually covers short-term leave to deal with urgent situations. But if it develops into a long-term arrangement; for example, if a family member has a medical situation that requires you to care for them long-term, an employee is entitled for leave in order to carry out this care. In this case, you won’t be paid a salary but instead would need to apply for benefits from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan)

If you want to travel

Travel may not be much of an option at the moment, but since this guide was first published in 2019 (and updated in 2021), we’ll leave this section as it is for anyone planning their dreams beyond the pandemic.

There is no legal right in Sweden to take unpaid leave in order to travel, so if you want to travel for leisure rather than to study or try out a new business idea, this isn’t guaranteed.

So you have a few options.

Firstly, Sweden’s generous annual leave policy makes it possible to take fairly long trips without any special provisions – but this requires careful planning.

Each year, you can choose to take up to four consecutive weeks off, and your employer is obligated to allow this in June, July or August. That means you might have to negotiate with them about which four-week period you choose, but if you want to take the time in summer, they can’t force you to take it in November instead. If you would prefer to take the time off outside the summer period (perhaps to escape the Nordic winter) your employer isn’t obligated to allow this, but many will be happy to do so if it means you’ll be in the office during the summer months.

That’s not all. You have to use at least 20 of your vacation days each year, but your employer has to allow you to roll over at least five of them, and might let you roll over even more. So if you have 25 vacation days and roll over the maximum each year, after five years you’ve earned yourself an extra 25 days’ vacation. If you have more than 25 days’ annual leave and are allowed to roll over more than five, you could end up with even more.


You can take long periods of leave under Sweden’s general holiday law. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm/TT

When you want to ‘cash in’ the rolled over days, there are a few rules that apply, but the main thing is to reach an agreement with your manager. Try to do this as soon as possible so that your manager can bear this in mind when planning ahead or distributing projects; that way, you’re more likely to be able to take the leave when you want.

Usually, the employee chooses which year they take the saved leave, but if there’s a special reason why the chosen year is inconvenient, the employer does have the right to refuse. If you’re taking at least five consecutive days of the ‘rolled over’ leave, it’s the norm to take this consecutively with that year’s annual leave, but if you don’t want to do that, speak to your manager.

The biggest potential downside to rolling over days of annual leave is that if you end up changing jobs, either if you resign or are laid off/terminated, you may end up unable to take all the leave you’ve accrued. This means the days are instead ‘paid out’ in the form of semesterersättning (holiday compensation) at the end of the employment, which usually works out as less money than you would have got if you’d taken the days.

It could also be worthwhile raising the possibility of taking an extended period of unpaid leave with your boss. Although they aren’t obligated to say yes, in some companies managers will be happy to allow this if it means retaining a good employee (especially a long-term one).

Because of the laws outlined above, Swedish employers are accustomed to employees taking extended leave, and it’s much less of a taboo topic than in many countries such as the US, UK, Japan or South Korea. This applies not only to taking time out to travel, but also to situations such as moving house or getting married. So it’s always worth asking! 

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

The Local's Paul O'Mahony interviewed Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg, lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics and researcher at the Center for Responsible Leadership about the Swedish style of leadership.

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

Does Sweden have a distinctive management style?

The Swedish style of leadership is often said to be characterised by so-called flat hierarchies, where everyone is able to – and expected to – contribute their ideas and input to tasks, regardless of whether they are in a leadership role or not.

Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg told The Local that there are a number of different aspects which can influence management style, although Sweden does have a distinct style.

“I think that there’s definitely an idea that there is a specific Swedish or Scandinavian management style,” she said. “But I think from a research perspective, it’s much more complex, because we tend to generalise or stereotype.”

“It’s got a lot to do with the company culture and the culture of the country,” Karlberg said, “There’s definitely an idea of Scandinavian leadership, I think we have a common idea of what that is, but then, is it actually practiced everywhere in Scandinavia or in Sweden? That’s another issue.”

“In many of our organisations we talk about Scandinavian leadership where the leadership is very international, it’s a mix of different people from different cultures.”

Sweden is a very individualist society, which is also reflected in Swedish business.

“I think the core of what we talk about when we talk about Swedish leadership is the fact that leaders and managers also call on co-workers to take ownership on the task and individualism comes into business,” Karlberg said.

“It’s even expected, and co-workers take that ownership, and they engage and they take responsibility for the outcome and the result. So it’s the total opposite of micro-management in that sense.”

This culture of ownership and engagement also applies to managers, Karlberg explained.

“To generalise, in a Swedish setting, if there’s a meeting with the boss, the co-workers will expect to be listened to, and to be involved in a conversation and give their opinion on things. And that’s also a way to motivate people, in a Swedish sense.”

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Can lead to cultural clashes

This expectation in Swedish workplaces can lead to clashes if employees from other countries are used to a different system, Karlberg said.

“In another culture, say Finland, for example – I’m just generalising – you go to a meeting with your boss and you expect the boss to motivate you and to tell you what to do. So if you had a Finnish manager in a Swedish context, Swedish co-workers would probably feel neglected or frustrated for not being involved. ‘No-one asked my opinion, I want to share my opinion, my opinion matters'”.

This can also happen in situations where a Swedish manager is managing a group of employees from a different culture or country.

“A Finnish crowd with a Swedish manager might be very frustrated if the manager just asks questions and doesn’t seem to have a direction of their own. There’s just different expectations”.

However, there is also a collective aspect to Swedish workplaces, which foreigners working in the country often pick up on.

“When I work with international crowds, they tend to notice that Swedish co-workers and managers are very collective, they want to have consensus, they have to discuss everything, and it takes forever and it can be very frustrating.”

Swedish co-workers aren’t afraid to speak up though, if they feel that the decision their manager is making is wrong.

“But there are a lot of behaviours where Swedish co-workers will not accept a decision. For example, if they feel that the idea that their manager is bringing is wrong, it will actually be their duty to speak up, not in a confrontational way, but to say ‘Hmm, you know, this idea about doing it this way, it’s probably not a good idea.'”

“And non-Swedish managers might not always appreciate that kind of reaction. And if it continues, and the manager says that this is the way we’re gonna do it, the typical Swedish coworker will insist that this is the best way, and then there is a clash – again, they expect to be listened to and taken into consideration.”

How do you know when a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace?

This need to feel informed and included in decision-making can in some cases make it difficult to understand at exactly what point a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace.

“It’s a different process,” Karlberg said. “It often involves a calculated plan for taking the time to introduce the decision, discuss it, and make people feel that they have been informed.”

This aspect of the Swedish workplace culture caused issues during the pandemic, when many employees began to work from home.

“Decisions are taken in a much more informal way, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when something was decided. And we also saw that during the pandemic, that the typical Swedish organisation – which is very non-hierarchical – suffered a lot, because a lot of leadership is practiced in an informal work environment.”

“So when people were taken away from that environment – because suddenly they were working from home – it was sort of, you know, ‘how do we practice leadership now?’, whereas in an organisation with a much clearer hierarchy, it was never an issue where decisions were made or how leadership was practiced, because it was done in a different way.”

“And in the more informal, flatter organisations, we had to find a different way to do that, to translate into the virtual room.”

Despite this, Karlberg does believe that Sweden’s leadership style is effective.

“I would say that it is, yes. We stand out pretty well as a nation when it comes to different types of national measurements of competitiveness. We score quite high on that. Of course, there’s also a drawback, if people don’t want to take that responsibility and ownership, because then it’s not typical that the manager would step up and change the leadership style. So it depends on whether you actually share the same expectation.”

Where does the Swedish leadership style come from?

Sweden’s collaborative leadership style is perhaps a product of Sweden’s history, Karlberg said.

“We have always been a small country, very dependent on export. And that means that we had to adapt to the rest of the world and to other markets, but also having to collaborate – we’re too small to quarrel or fight.”

“This has been a way to bring people together in the same direction – it’s a little bit like how we work with the unions with much more of a collaborative focus instead of being confrontative, because it’s simply not rational for a small country like us.”

There’s also a strong tradition of independence in Sweden, Karlberg explained.

“There’s a genuine tradition of independence in the sense of mutual respect. And of course, a lot happened during the 20th century with the development of equality and the whole idea of individualist thinking. Where we’re individualistic with regard to family, with regard to gender, with regard to our roles in society.”

“I think that plays a part as well, with equality and also that everyone matters in that sense.”

You can hear Paul O’Mahony’s interview with Karlberg in our Sweden in Focus podcast where we discuss all aspects of life in Sweden and shed light on the latest Swedish news. Listen and subscribe.

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