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WORKING IN SWEDEN

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

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.

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

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 agree 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 also 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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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

EXPLAINED: How do Sweden’s political parties want to reform work permits?

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats enacted the first stage of their work permit reform plan on June 1st, and have announced further plans to tighten up the work permit system. But where do Sweden's other political parties stand on labour migration?

EXPLAINED: How do Sweden's political parties want to reform work permits?

The Social Democrats

As Sweden’s ruling party, the left-wing Social Democrats’ position is the most clear. In their first work permit reforms, which came into effect on June 1st, they introduced a new talent visa for certain highly-educated workers, as well as a new rule stating that work permit applicants must have a signed work contract in order for their application to be accepted.

Aside from these reforms, they have also called for a reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning – a system scrapped in 2008 where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden would only have their work permits approved if they were filling a position where there is a national shortage. If this were to be approved, work permits would be dependent on unions, employers, and authorities confirming that they lack workers in the profession in question.

Social Democrat migration minister Morgan Johansson, has previously stated that reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning is the “only way” to clean up the system.

In addition to this, the Social Democrats announced plans to propose raising the salary threshold for work permits from the current 13,000 kronor limit to around 27,000 kronor, although the final figure will be decided following negotiations in parliament.

The Moderates

The right-wing Moderates do not want to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning or the requirements suggested by the Social Democrats, but suggest instead that the should be a lower salary threshold should be raised to 27,540 kronor per month, which is 85 percent of the average Swedish salary (32,000 kronor per month). Seasonal workers such as berry pickers would be exempt from this requirement.

The Christian Democrats

The Christian Democrats want to see this lower limit raised to 35,000 kronor (they had previously stated that it should be 30,000 kronor), with exceptions for professions facing a shortage of staff, such as seasonal workers and certain healthcare staff.

In addition to this, both the Moderates and the Christian Democrats pushed for the new requirement which came in in June for workers to have to financially support any family members who accompany them to Sweden, as well as banning labour migration for personal assistants.

Their argument is that low-salaried jobs should be filled by unemployed people already in Sweden, rather than by bringing in workers from abroad. They also believe that it will make it harder for people to abuse the system.

The Sweden Democrats

The Sweden Democrats have previously proposed introducing a 35,000 kronor salary limit, alongside the Christian Democrats. This proposal suggested the reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning for anyone earning under 35,000 kronor, with free labour migration over that figure.

The Centre Party

The Centre Party describes itself as “one of few parties in the Swedish parliament who protect the current system”, stating that it believes that individual companies know best when it comes to the kind of skills they need.

The party are against both arbetsmarknadsprövning and the introduction of a higher salary threshold, believing that introducing both policies would lead to a national skills shortage in Sweden.

The Liberals

The Liberals, like the Centre Party, are positive towards the current work permit system and are not in favour of increasing the salary threshold for work permit applicants. Similarly, they – like the Centre Party – do not want to stop labour migration for personal assistants.

The Liberals also believe that foreign students in Sweden should automatically be given a one-year residence permit after finishing their studies in order to look for work in the country.

The Green Party

The Greens have previously stated to Arbetet magazine that they “are not entirely against raising the 13,000 kronor salary threshold somewhat”, but that it must still be possible for those here on a work permit to, for example, work part-time alongside their studies.

They are not in favour of reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning, as they believe that employers should decide which skills they need rather than the state.

The Left Party

The Left Party is in favour of reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning as well as a requirement that immigrants coming to Sweden on a work permit must work full-time.

The Left Party does not want to introduce a requirement that workers must be able to support their families, and are against proposals to introduce a 35,000 kronor minimum salary for work permits.

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