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Written by Brabners LLP
In the case of King v The Sash Window Workshop Ltd and another (‘‘King’’), the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (‘‘ECJ’’) has voiced his opinion on whether a worker should be entitled to be paid at the end of their contract for any periods of accrued annual leave where that worker had been dissuaded from taking such leave because he/she would not have been paid.
Article 7(1) of the Working Time Directive (‘‘Directive’’) states that member states must ensure that every worker is entitled to at least four weeks of paid annual leave. The Directive was implemented in the UK by the Working Time Regulations 1998 (‘‘WTR’’). The WTR provides for a more generous holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks paid leave and implements other relevant provisions linked to the Directive. The remedy provisions in regulation 30 of the WTR distinguish between claims where a worker has been denied the right to take annual leave and claims where the worker has not been paid for the annual leave they have already taken. The effect of this separation is that for a worker in the UK to establish their right to paid annual leave, it seemed that they must have first taken that leave and then bring a claim for unpaid wages for the leave that is taken, along with the litigation risk and cost that incurs. The case of King though involved a situation where a worker had not taken any annual leave but still brought a claim for unpaid wages.
Mr King worked for The Sash Window Workshop Ltd (‘‘SWW’’) as a commission-only salesman for 13 years. He received no salary (only commission) and was never paid annual leave. SWW terminated Mr King’s contract when he reached the age of 65. Mr King subsequently brought claims for age discrimination and unpaid holiday pay. The decision of the tribunal with regards to the unpaid holiday pay was challenged. The claim was successful at first instance and then went up to the Court of Appeal by way of appeals. The Court of Appeal felt obliged to make a referral to the ECJ. Given the importance of this claim the Advocate General of the ECJ voiced his opinion on the questions posed.
The Advocate General’s opinion confirms that employers must provide adequate facilities to allow workers to exercise their right to take paid annual leave and a worker’s right to take annual leave must carry over until the worker has the opportunity to exercise that right. The Advocate General also suggested that the right to paid annual leave must carry over indefinitely, unless an adequate facility for the exercise of this right has been provided by the employer. In other words, this means that the holiday pay sum due to a worker on termination should cover the entirety of the worker’s engagement or employment where the worker has not had adequate means of exercising the right.
Whilst the Advocate General’s opinion is not binding, convention suggests that this opinion is likely to be followed by the ECJ. Businesses will therefore need to watch this space to see whether the ECJ adopts the Advocate General’s opinion and how this impacts on the way the WTR are interpreted in the UK in the future. There is the possibility that King could have significant implications for UK businesses operating in the gig economy, especially in light of the recent flurry of employment status cases where individuals are seeking to assert that they have “worker” rights. If such businesses are then found to have discouraged their workers from taking holiday and exercising that right, then additional holiday payments could be due on termination of the contractual relationship. Watch this space!
Disclaimer: This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purpose. This article is written by Brabners and reproduced with their permission. Brabners is a Limited Liability Partnership.