|Workers' rights are protected by the|
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
Workers who fall sick during their annual leave are entitled to take corresponding paid leave at a later date, the EU's top court has ruled.
The European Court of Justice ruling is legally binding throughout the EU.
Thursday's ruling was prompted by a Spanish trade union case against a group of department stores.
"The right to paid annual leave cannot be interpreted restrictively," the court says. The UK does not have an opt-out in this area of EU labour law.
The court in Luxembourg said the EU Working Time Directive grants workers a right to at least four weeks' paid annual leave "even where such leave coincides with periods of sick leave".
The ECJ says "the point at which the temporary incapacity arose is irrelevant".
"Consequently, 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."
According to an earlier ECJ ruling, workers who fall sick before a period of annual leave can also reschedule that leave period so that it does not clash with their sick leave.
The UK's opt-out from the Working Time Directive only applies to the directive's clause setting a 48-hour limit on the working week.
The UK government says "no-one can opt out of any other part of the Directive".
The UK and at least 14 other countries use the opt-out, which enables workers voluntarily to work more than 48 hours a week.