LUXEMBOURG (CN) — EU workers are not entitled to save up time off they get for special occasions to avoid overlapping with holidays, the EU’s top court ruled Thursday.
The decision by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice stems from a suit in Spain by three trade unions.
Noting that EU employment law guarantees paid time off for major life events such as weddings and funerals, the unions said workers should be allowed to use such time at a later date whenever said life event coincides with periods that the worker would otherwise have off.
The 13-judge panel based in Luxembourg disagreed.
“The purpose of the paid special leave … is solely to enable workers to take time off from work in order to meet certain specific needs or obligations that require their personal presence,” the unsigned decision states.
Spain’s national high court, the Audiencia Nacional, hadreferred the matter for judgment because it was unsure whether an EU employment regulation called the Working Time Directive ensures that workers take time off for certain events, or grants them leave hours because of those events to take any time.
The Working Time Directive sets a variety of conditions on employment, including guarantee annual and sick leave. It requires that employers give their employees paid time off for certain major life events, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.
Each country can regulate how much time off workers are given for such occasions, and that works out in Spain to 15 days off for weddings, three days for the death of close relatives and one day to move.
Thursday’s ruling differs dramatically from a landmark 2012 decision in which the court held that workers are entitled to sick leave, even while on vacation.
“A worker is entitled to take paid annual leave, which coincides with a period of sick leave, at a later point in time,” the court wrote in that case, which had also originated in Spain. The court specifically stated in the special leave case that “special leave cannot be regarded as comparable to sick leave.”
The three Spanish unions that filed the latest suit are Federación de Trabajadores Independientes de Comercio, Federación Estatal de Servicios, Movilidad y Consumo de la Unión General de Trabajadores and Federación de Servicios de Comisiones Obreras.
The case will now return to the Spanish high court for final rulings in the individual cases.