Paid annual leave: News from the Court of Justice of the EU

In recent judgments, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has strengthened the rights of workers (and their heirs) in relation to the application of the EU Working Time Directive.

In the joined cases C-619/16 and C-684/16, the CJEU upheld that paid annual leave (and, as a consequence, after the termination of the employment relationship, the “corresponding absence of an allowance in lieu”) remains due by the employer even if the worker has not applied for it during the employment relationship. In the first case, C-619/16, a trainee with the Land of Berlin refrained from taking paid annual leave, whereas the second case, C-684/16, concerned an employment relationship with the German Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in the frame of which a worker requested the payment of an allowance instead of his annual leave not taken. The CJEU, in line with its settled case-law, also reconfirmed that the principles of its judgments “apply equally to employers which are public [] or private []”.

In the joined cases C-569/16 and C-570/16 two widows of former public and private sector employees had claimed, as their heirs, allowances ‘in lieu’ of the paid annual leave not taken by their husbands during their employment relationship.

The Court subsequently stated that “under EU law, a worker’s right to paid annual leave does not lapse upon his death” and that allowances may be claimed by his/her heirs. Here too, the Court upheld that “the heirs may directly rely on EU law, both against a public and a private employer”. The Court finally underlined that the right to annual leave is an essential principle of EU social law and a fundamental right guaranteed by the EU Charter and that this right includes the right to be paid during such leave.

Moreover, in its Matzak ruling, already in February this year the CJEU had delivered a landmark judgment on the ‘stand-by’ time of volunteer firefighters, taking an important stand in relation to the notion of working time and the scope of the working time directive and stating that the ‘stand-by’ time at home of a volunteer firefighter who is obliged to respond to calls from the employer within a short period must be regarded as ‘working time’. This judgement could have strong impacts on national systems of fire and civil protection services, but also on sectors characterised by the need of rapid interventions and hence on the intensive use of ‘on-call’ and ‘stand-by’ services, above all in the security and health sectors.

In a reaction, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger welcomed the judgments: “The right of workers, whether in the public or the private sectors, have been further strengthened. The ECJ has recently shown a certain intransigence when it comes to the application of the Working Time Directive, and we particularly welcome that the Court increasingly bases its lines of argumentation on the EU Charter. It proves that the rights and principles enshrined therein are not toothless”.

Visual: Decent work. A human right © CESI 2018