Europeans get vacation 'do-over'

If you're lucky, the "Fourth of July falling on a Wednesday" thing didn't deprive you of an extended holiday. But hey, this is vacation-deprived America. And a lot of us worked the week with just one day off for BBQs, the beach or whatever it is we do over the Fourth.

So, it's not easy to hear about many workers in Europe taking, say, the entire month of August off, with vacation time to spare. Well, recently Europe's high court threw workers another bone. It ruled that if Europeans get sick during vacation, they can take another one later to make up for it. We called Marketplace's European bureau chief Stephen Beard to find out if this could really be true.

"Paid annual leave is all about rest and relaxation and leisure," said Beard, quoting the court ruling. "It's not about recovering from an illness."

It's real. Take a listen to the interview above to learn about how citizens in different countries are reacting to the ruling. Not everyone is rejoicing the "do-over" vacation option.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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The US Postal Service has had this policy since I started in 1985. Employees in my area seldom use this benefit, mostly when an injury or illness continues after the vacation period ends. The employee does have to submit documentation from a doctor to have the leave changed from Annual to Sick. I can think of four people in the last twenty-seven years that have used it, several who could have but didn't.

Over-regulation of the employment market may indeed contribute to stagnation in some EU countries, but I seriously doubt Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU because of a right employees have enjoyed in most EU countries for a long time. I live in Germany, where the economy is doing just fine, and I have had the right to differentiate between vacation time and sick leave since I moved here from the US, 13 years ago. Some people may abuse it, but most don't take advantage of it even when they do get sick on vacation. Employers don't like it because employers are in the business of not liking employee's rights, not because it's a problem in any real-world sense. After all, I can take sick leave anytime I get a doctor's note, so why would I wait to lie about it when I happen to be on vacation?

On the other hand, I have incurable cancer and can apply for three or four weeks of physical rehabilitation, usually in a resort. The time is taken out of my paid sick leave and not out of my paid vacation time. The rehab itself is paid for by my pension insurance, and it pays for itself in about four months of my state pension contributions. If I lived in the US, I would probably be on Medicaid, collecting disability. Here, humane conditions keep me working and paying taxes. My work has never suffered because of it.

You might find European employee rights hilarious and outrageous, but I find the amount of power American employers have over their workers' lives sad and frightening.

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