EU court: Workers sick on leave can get extra time off

Sick girl in bed - file pic Workers' rights are protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

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Workers who fall sick during their annual leave are entitled to take corresponding paid leave at a later date, the EU's top court has ruled.

The European Court of Justice ruling is legally binding throughout the EU.

Thursday's ruling was prompted by a Spanish trade union case against a group of department stores.

"The right to paid annual leave cannot be interpreted restrictively," the court says. The UK does not have an opt-out in this area of EU labour law.

The court in Luxembourg said the EU Working Time Directive grants workers a right to at least four weeks' paid annual leave "even where such leave coincides with periods of sick leave".

The ECJ says "the point at which the temporary incapacity arose is irrelevant".

"Consequently, a worker is entitled to take paid annual leave, which coincides with a period of sick leave, at a later point in time, irrespective of the point at which the incapacity for work arose."

According to an earlier ECJ ruling, workers who fall sick before a period of annual leave can also reschedule that leave period so that it does not clash with their sick leave.

The UK's opt-out from the Working Time Directive only applies to the directive's clause setting a 48-hour limit on the working week.

The UK government says "no-one can opt out of any other part of the directive".

The UK and at least 14 other countries use the opt-out, which enables workers voluntarily to work more than 48 hours a week.

Carrying leave over

An EU source told the BBC that the ECJ ruling has full, immediate effect EU-wide, regardless of the type or size of employer.

Workers who believe their employer has infringed their right to paid annual leave can seek justice in their national courts.

Infringement cases against employers who violate the directive can also be brought by the European Commission or national governments.

Commenting on Thursday's ruling the Confederation of British Industry said that "as a result of earlier ECJ judgments, this change has already happened in the UK, bringing along headaches for employers".

Guy Bailey, CBI Head of Employment and Employee Relations, said that "with the rules currently under discussion again in Brussels, the CBI would like to see the judgments reversed, so that the directive is focused on the health and safety of the workforce, as originally intended".

The Working Time Directive has been hotly debated in the EU for years. The European Parliament has tried to get the opt-out removed, challenging the UK position.

The UK's Federation of Small Businesses urged the UK government on Thursday to "avoid implementation of any ECJ ruling on annual leave and sick leave for as long as possible, given the ongoing negotiations by the social partners on the Working Time Directive".

The business group said changing UK law in this area again "would be unhelpful, confusing and add burdens for small businesses, which at this time they can ill afford".

In cases where workers fall sick towards the end of the year, and are unable to take all of their annual leave, they can under EU law carry over their unused leave into the next accounting period.

The ECJ has also ruled that the long-term sick have the right to accumulate at least a year of unused annual leave. But the ECJ says the amount is not open-ended and member states can set an upper limit.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    All very good - but it's probably better if you just grin and bear it and be sick on holiday, because then they can't turn round and shaft you for being sick like my employers did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Good grief! No wonder Europe cannot compete and half of the Eurozone is bankrupt. This is nothing less than a slacker's charter. I can imagine the unions and Public Sector workers rubbing their hands in glee. Good news for writers of sick notes and travel companies though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Andyesbjerg : "This has been law in Denmark for quite a while, and I do not know of anybody who has abused it!"

    Well I'm in Denmark at the moment and i do. Funnily enough, both were government employees. It's the same the world over, it seems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Actually, some of the more paternal and forward-thinking blue-chip private companies already had 'if you fall sick on annual leave you're entitled to claim those days back so you can take them later in the year' in the 1980's. It tends to depend on company culture and management history, and the degree to which staff are valued as people rather than labour. WIki: Theory X Theory Y.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    sickness is not having leave to go on holliday,relax,etc...from a humanitarian point of veiw i can see the fairness in allowing one to take there leave later. as for the 48 hr ruling, if one one wants to work more by way of individual choice,i cannot see nothing wrong in that,if it is the persons free choice. one as to pause for thought at this point to give praise to junior Dr,fine people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    please people dont make me laugh .
    its been working in denmark and not abused?
    this is britain and do you think the lazy lot who claim benefits etc would worry about stealing extra days from there beloved employers.
    they dont give a t//s.
    stop believing that it will ony be a few that take advantage.
    it will be most of you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    158 - are you for real?. An employee with ANY type of cancer should at least have your support. And the lady on maternity leave, was she made redundant because she had a kid(s). I have to assume you're not a popular boss and I cant imagine you ever getting 100% out of your staff. Do you not realise they are actually PEOPLE not machines?

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Davey's Truancy Inc' at your services. Reasonable rates for home visits. All tribunals willingly attended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    This has been the policy at my work for years anyway so no change for me. As far as i can see the system hasn't been abused. Compaines which treat their workers well reap the benefits in increased productivity and loyalty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    All this will do is to encourage employers to eliminate paid sick leave. In my company employees are only allowed 2 days paid sick leave per year after which they get SSP which only kicks in from the 4th day off sick. Its amazing how much sick leave stopped happening when people realised they would no longer get paid for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I can just see the comments now. Don't need to read the thread.

    MailReader - 'Workers should be content with five days leave a year, and be sick on their own time!'

    Luxury ! When I was a lad I worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week in mill and the only holiday I got was my toilet break (one a day)
    Try telling the people of today that and they wont believe you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Who thinks about the self-employed??

    All these rules are based on "employers = bad" and "employees = exploited".

    If you are self employed you work six days a week, nobody cares if you are sick or not.

    The EU doesn't like small businesses, hence all those rules. They like big corporations that offer follow-up jobs to politicians.

    Keep free travel & common market, otherwise- get out of the EU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    So if you go on holiday and get food poisoning or an upset stomach you can can get those extra days at a later time! That is crazy. Seems like the euro courts has got bored of banning bent bananas and no looking for some other rule to ridiculously enforce!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    The useful idiots are out in force today.

    Do they not realize the reason people in Europe live like kings compared to us is because they stand up for themselves?

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    201. world gone mad.
    Not if you're contracted to work on a sunday.

    The giving back of leave if sick is common in the UK and I don't think many people would "play the system" as some have said. Most employers already monitor sick leave this is no different.

    In my department more than 8 days sick in a rolling year triggers a verbal warning unless it can be treated as a one off eg accident.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    " I do hope you are asking your question with your tongue very firmly in your cheek..." in ref to 185

    158 could be onto something, not everyone works Mon-Fri, now complicate that even more with shift work & flexible working. Short notice working arrangements/times opens this up into a gray area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    More enlightened employers already recognise such things - there's little point in having staff members at their desk/wherver going through the motions but not being overly productive because their job is too much of a daily grind.

    Efficency needs well motivated staff, on the ball every minute of every day they are at work......

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    lol the private sector does not generate wealth. the government prints money, hands it to the banks, and they hoard it. the private sector USED to generate wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    A lot of company's operate a back to work interview after sickness.
    This can be an excuse for back to work interrogation conducted on a premise of "how dare you have the temerity to be ill."
    This can be counter productive when someone who should be off sick with something nasty & infectious ends up contaminating the entire workforce rather than be subjected to the grilling.
    Seen it happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    More rules from the Keystone Cops.

    Are these rules for all EU citizens and companies OR are the EU themselves immune from them (all of the other rules they come up up are)?

    And how do companies pay for this in the current environment?

    Personally, I am now at the point where I am going to refuse to adhere to anymore stupid EU rules. I haven't been allowed to vote for them so they can naff off.


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