The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled yesterday that employees who fall ill while on holiday have the right to re-take their leave at a later date, irrespective of when they fell ill.

All employers, regardless of size, in the UK and the rest of the EU are bound by this rule, as they have agreed to the EU Working Time Directive, which governs employee rights across the whole of the member states.

And while the UK has opted out from the clause setting a 48-hour limit on the working week, the government says that ‘no-one can opt out of any other part of the directive’.

The ECJ ruling says: “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 them to be unfit for work.”

The statement goes on to say that the point at which the illness arose is “irrelevant” and that “a worker is entitled to take paid annual leave which coincides with a period of sick leave at a later point in time, irrespective of the point at which the incapacity for work arose.”

Employees who believe their rights have been infringed in this area can take their employer to court and cases can also be brought against employers by the European Commission or national governments.

Many business organisations would like to see the judgements reversed.  The FSB said that changing the law again “would be unhelpful, confusing and add burdens for small businesses, which at this time they can ill afford”.

And the CBI would like to see the directive focused on the health and safety of the workforce, as originally intended”.