Workers to reclaim holiday if they fall sick on leave

Workers who fall ill whilst on holiday will have a legal right to take additional paid leave at a later date, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

The ECJ's Working Time Directive legislation has been clarified following an appeal by a Spanish trade union against a group of department stores last week.

It clarified that a worker who becomes unfit for work during annual leave is entitled to a same duration of leave at a later point, 'irrespective of the point at which the incapacity for work arose.'

The extended legislation means that workers who fall ill towards the end of the year would be able to carry over unused leave into the next accounting year, as long as a sick note is provided. A previous ruling had already said that workers who fall sick before the start of scheduled holiday could also take their leave at another time.

The court said: "The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.

"The purpose of entitlement to sick leave is different, since it enables a worker to recover from an illness that has caused him to be unfit for work."

There is speculation as to when the legislation will be implemented in Britain, with an EU source telling the BBC that the ruling had 'full immediate effect' across the EU, 'regardless of the type or size of employer'. The Government, however, is yet to comment.

The Working Time Directive also includes legislation relating to working hours, and although there are opt-out clauses on parts of the directive, there is no exemption on sick pay and holiday.

The Daily Telegraph warned the move could cost UK businesses more than £100 million a year.

Speaking to the BBC, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) 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'.