What does garden leave mean?

If you’ve recently handed in your letter of resignation, been suspended from your role, or been made an offer for redundancy, you could be placed on garden leave. But is it a good thing or could it damage your career prospects?  

Why are people placed on garden leave?

Garden leave refers to the process where you spend part (or the full) duration of your notice period away from the office, on payroll and receiving contractual benefits of employment. In the majority of occasions, employers should include a suitable provision in your contract of employment to allow you to be placed on garden leave – however, equally some employers impose garden leave by reason of having express policies in place in this regard; or even by reason of their own custom and practice.

When does garden leave commonly start?

Garden leave can be given when you’ve been offered a job by a competitor and/or to prevent you from being in the office where you have access to confidential or sensitive information or contacts or customers or other employees and that could help you in your next role. Because of this, your last day in the office could be the day on which you formally resigned, so that your employer can ensure you have as little time as possible to access any of this relevant information or parties. .

However, Anna Skelton, Senior HR Business Partner at Jobsite says:

“While it’s common for gardening leave to begin on the day you resign, that’s not always the case. If you’re about to hand in your notice and suspect you might be placed on garden leave, it’s important to remember that the terms are in the hands of your employer, and they may wish that you stay on for a few more days, or even longer, depending on the needs of your employer and your own particular role, so don’t rule it out.”

What are your rights and responsibilities during garden leave?

It can vary from company to company, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be carrying out any work. When you leave your company’s premises, you might even have to give back your laptop or any other digital device belonging to your employer, preventing you from accessing information that could aid you in your next competitive role. Contractually, you may not be allowed to contact any customers, clients or colleagues either during your garden leave.

Most importantly, as you remain employed by your company, you will not be able to commence employment at your new company ahead of schedule, or turn to self-employment unless this is expressly agreed by your current employer and your garden leave period is brought to earlier than at first anticipated by your contract or your employer’s policy.

If there is a suitable corresponding clause in your contract of employment some companies might require you to take any remaining holiday you have accrued. However it’s important to remember that garden leave shouldn’t be treated as holiday.

“When on garden leave, you are still employed and are contractually obliged to your company and this means that they might ask you to return to work at any time, or send over any relevant work or information or assist on any relevant queries. While that’s an unlikely scenario, it’s best to double check with your line manager any required reporting requirements whilst you are on garden leave.” Skelton says.

In short, when it comes to garden leave, people usually use this time to relax, pursue hobbies and (the clue is in the name), tend to their gardens. If you’ve been offered garden leave, try to enjoy it!

Can you still apply for jobs whilst on gardening leave?

Garden leave for people who have been made redundant is often not the bed of roses that it is perceived to be. While you may be getting paid, you know that this will come to an end and you will still need to find alternative employment. You may even be tempted to get another job while you are still being paid – especially if you have been banished from the office – but don’t be! You are still employed and subject to the terms of your contract of employment; and can be held liable if you begin looking for a new gig in breach of these terms. Looking for new jobs however is fine; – however beginning new employment whilst on gardening leave is highly inadvisable for the reasons already highlighted above

Is garden leave a bad thing?

A common misconception of garden leave is that you’re being banished from the office for not being good enough at your job. The prospect of this will strike fear into the hearts of many employees – Being home in the day, staring at the walls. If you’ve been offered garden leave however, do not see this as anyway related to your capability. It’s simply a means by which your employer is trying to protect its own business interests, and (in some cases) is often a recognised policy by some employers to place all employees of a certain seniority on garden leave and help minimise the risk of any potential damage to the business.

As a contractual clause, it’s not designed to be personal and won’t restrict your future career and prospects, unless you decided to breach the  terms of your contract of employment whilst on garden leave.  Furthermore, quite often contracts of employment will also provide that any time spent on garden leave will be expressly deducted from the periods set aside for any relevant restrictive covenants in your contract of employment. Instead of worrying, think what you could be doing with this new found free time and make the most of having a break from the pressures and strains of every day employment.

Find out more on restrictive covenants and what they entail here.

Can you request garden leave?

Although you’re serving your notice period in the comfort of your own home, garden leave ultimately has your employer’s best interests at heart. You are within your rights to ask for garden leave, but it might be perceived negatively by your current employer as an attempt to have some paid time off; and the right to be placed on garden leave is very much at the employer’s discretion and subject (as already mentioned) to either a contractual right or policy or custom and practice. In short, if your employer sees your move to a rival company as a threat, they will almost definitely offer it to you.

If you think that you will find it uncomfortable working within your company during your notice period, it’s a good idea to include the company that you are moving to, the role you will be taking on, and the responsibilities you will have in your own letter of resignation. By clearly spelling out that you’re moving on to a competing role to your current employer; you might help to make a case for convincing your employer to make a decision for you to be placed on garden leave.

While you can’t work for your next employer during garden leave, you can certainly start researching your new company and role. Why not read up on our top tips to make a good impression on your first day.

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