European Court rules on accrual of annual leave for the long-term sick

January 22, 2009

The European Court of Justice has ruled that workers who are off sick for the whole of an annual leave year are entitled to a period of four weeks paid annual leave despite the fact they they are not actually at work. National courts can decide whether the leave is taken during that year or carried over to the following year – but, either way, the employee is entitled to be paid at some point.

And the court has ruled that the right to paid annual leave is not lost at the end of a leave year if the worker was off sick for the whole of that year, or if he or she was off sick for part of the year and is still absent when the employment terminates.

The European Court has handed down judgement in the case of Stringer v HMRC – overturning a decision of the British Court of Appeal who in April 2005 ruled that the right to paid holiday did not accrue during periods of sickness absence. This judgement was appealed to the House of Lords, who referred the case to the European Court.

Richard Woodman, an employment specialist at Royds Solicitors, with whom the ME Association works on private health insurance disputes, said:

"The House of of Lords will now give a final judgement but will no doubt overturn the Court of Appeal's judgement in the light of the ECJ decision.

"This will be a most unpopular decision with employers, because in essence it means that there is a right to  accrue annual leave for those on long term sick for an unlimited period of time if they are ill for a number of years."

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