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Tjänstledighet: How to use Sweden's generous right to unpaid leave

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Tjänstledighet: How to use Sweden's generous right to unpaid leave
Considering further education but want to be able to return to your job once your course is finished? Here's how. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB/TT

Many workers in Sweden have the right to protect their job while they go on unpaid leave in order to study, start their own business, care for a sick relative, or even in some cases, try out a new job. Here's our guide.


What is tjänstledighet?

Tjänstledighet, literally translating as "service leave", represents a number of different types of unpaid leave in Sweden. Some of these are available to all workers in Sweden after a certain period of time in work, others are only available to workers in the public service, and others are only available if your workplace agrees to grant leave.

Here's a run-down of the different types, as well as the details on how you can qualify.

Tjänstledighet for studies

The most common form of tjänstledighet is unpaid study leave, which gives you the right to stop working in order to study, if you have been working for the same employer for at least six months, or a total of twelve months in the last two years.

Although you have the right to go on unpaid study leave after working for long enough no matter where you work, your employer does have the right to delay the start date of your leave for up to six months if your workplace has a kollektivavtal (collective agreement), or up to two years for workplaces without such an agreement.


You can study anything: studies don't need to have any relevance to your work, but it should be some sort of timetabled programme of education such as a course or degree programme - self-led studies don't count.

Your tjänstledighet is granted for the duration of the course, no matter how long the course lasts. You don't have the right to extend the length of your leave without consent from your employer, but you can end it early - your employer can delay your return to work by two weeks if you were absent for more than a week but less than a year, and one month if you were absent for longer.

You don't have the right to switch to a different course than the one your employer originally approved your leave for, either, although you can always discuss this with your employer - they may choose to allow it.

After you return, you have the right to the same kind of work and terms of employment as you had before your leave - although if your workplace has changed in some way (if there has been some sort of reshuffle or reorganisation), you could be given slightly different tasks. You also don't have the right to work in your school or university holidays, unless you've made a special agreement with your workplace to do so.

You also have the right for unpaid leave in order to study SFI: Swedish for immigrants. The process for doing so is slightly different, but you still have the right to unpaid leave for part-time and full-time SFI classes, with your job protected while you are away.


Tjänstledighet to start your own business

If you've been employed for at least six months, you have the right to tjänstledighet for six months to try to start your own business. There are some caveats, though: you can't compete with your employer or go on leave if it would make it more difficult for them to do business.

One example of something which could stop you from being able to go on leave to start your own business could be a situation where your employer was unable to carry out business in the usual way if you were to go on leave, or if there would be too much of an imbalance if you were to leave. A large cost increase for your employer would also be a strong enough reason for your leave to be denied.

Again, this type of leave is limited to six months: you can't apply for a new period of leave after the first one has run out.

Tjänstledighet to try out a new job

This may be one of the oddest forms of tjänstledighet - in some cases, you have the right to take unpaid time off in order to try out another job.

Yes, that's right, your employer will protect your old job while you test a job with another employer, so you can come back to your first employer if you don't like your new job.

Don't get too excited though, it's rare that you have the right to this kind of tjänstledighet - it's usually only available to public-sector workers. You can still apply for it if you work in the private sector, but your boss doesn't have to approve it.


Tjänstledighet to take care of a sick relative

Workers in Sweden also have the right to take tjänstledighet in order to care for a sick relative - it is illegal for your employer to fire you for taking this form of tjänstledighet.

Unlike the other forms of tjänstledighet, this form of leave is not tied to the person applying for leave, rather 100 days of leave are allocated to the person in need of care, and they can then be split amongst multiple carers if needs be.

The right to care is linked to the right to sickness benefits from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency Försäkringskassan, meaning that you will usually only be able to take time off to care for someone who is seriously ill enough to be eligible for this benefit.

General tjänstledighet

Finally, there's general tjänstledighet, which is unpaid leave for a different reason than those listed above. Maybe you've always dreamed of climbing Everest, maybe your band is going on tour, or maybe you have some other sort of hobby or activity which you want to dedicate your full attention to.

You don't automatically have the right to this kind of tjänstledighet - it all depends on whether your employer is willing to grant leave or not. If they do decide to grant you general tjänstledighet, you don't have the right to come back to work sooner than you had agreed with your employer - but you can still negotiate with them if you wish to do so.


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