Workers’ Estates Can Collect on Unused Leave Time, EU Court Rules

(CN) – Two German widows are entitled to allowances in lieu of paid annual leave that their husbands had accrued at work before their deaths, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.

Though the Luxembourg-based court already ruled in 2014 that a worker’s right to paid annual leave does not lapse upon his death, still unsettled was whether this scheme holds true when national law precludes that allowance in lieu from forming part of the estate.

Germany also argued here that a ruling for the widows would frustrate the right to paid annual leave, since an employer cannot reap the benefits of letting its workers have a period of relaxation and leisure once the person concerned has died.

In the underlying case, the husband of Maria Elisabeth Bauer worked for the city of Wuppertal and the husband of Martina Brobonn worked for a private company, TWI Technische Wartung und Instandsetzung Volker Willmerot.

Bauer’s husband died in 2010, with 25 days of outstanding paid annual leave, and Brobonn’s husband died in 2013 with 32 days of outstanding paid annual leave.

When their husbands’ employers denied their requests for allowances of 3,702 and 5,857, respectively, the widows each prevailed in court, but appeals have been on hold so that Germany’s Federal Labor Court could get insight on what EU law requires.

Siding with the widows as well this morning, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice ruled “that it is not open to member states to adopt legislation pursuant to which the death of a worker retroactively deprives him of the right to paid annual leave acquired before his death, and, accordingly, his legal heirs of the allowance in lieu thereof by way of the financial settlement of those rights.”

“As noted by the referring court, while the worker’s death admittedly has the inevitable consequence of depriving him of any effective possibility of enjoying the period of rest and relaxation attaching to the right to paid annual leave to which he was entitled at the time of his death, it cannot be accepted that his death retroactively entails the total loss of the right thus acquired which, … includes a second aspect of equal importance, namely the entitlement to a payment,” the ruling states.

In separate rulings on Tuesday, the European Court of Justice also determined that workers  cannot automatically lose their rights to paid annual leave by not applying for it.

Both of the workers in the other cases also hailed from Germany: Sebastian Kreuziger was a paid legal trainee with the Land of Berlin and Tetsuji Shimizu was employed by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften.

Kreuziger had refrained from taking paid annual leave during the last months of this traineeship, and the Land shot him down when he later requested an allowance in lieu of those days of unused leave. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft also denied Shimizu’s claim for an allowance when he took only two days off when the employer invited him to take his remaining leave.

While the Court of Justice issued separate rulings today for each worker, it consolidated the cases for the purposes of a press release this morning.

That release says workers’ rights to leave “may lapse only if the employer actually gave the worker the opportunity, in particular through the provision of adequate information, to take the leave days at issue in good time, which the employer must prove he has done.”

“The worker must be viewed as the weak party in an employment relationship,” the press release continues. “Thus, he may be dissuaded from expressly asserting his rights against his employer if, in particular, the assertion of those rights is likely to expose him to measures taken by the employer which may affect the employment relationship to the detriment of the worker.

“On the other hand, if the employer is able to prove – and the burden is on him in that regard – that the worker deliberately and knowingly refrained from taking his paid annual leave after having been given the opportunity actually to exercise his right to it, EU law does not preclude the loss of that right or, in the event that the employment relationship is terminated, the corresponding absence of an allowance in lieu of paid annual leave which is not taken,” the ruling continues.

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