Overlapping between annual leave and special leave under the Working Time Directive: what the ECJ says

In its judgment C‑588/18 of 4 June 2020[i], the Court of Justice of the European Union further detailed the scope of application of the Working Time Directive (Council Directive 2003/88/EC).

The case at stake arose from a dispute between Spanish employers and employees regarding the conditions governing the application of paid special leave granted to workers in application of a national collective agreement. The paid special leaves are meant to allow workers to take time off  in order to attend specific events (such as a marriage, the birth of a child, an hospitalization…) which are exhaustively listed in the collective agreement in question.

Drawing on Articles 5[ii] and 7[iii] of the Working Time Directive, a number of trade unions were seeking a court ruling recognizing that a worker is entitled to rearrange previously scheduled annual leave when, during his/her holidays, an event for which he/she is also entitled to paid special leave occurs.

In its ruling, the Court recalled its settled case-law relating to the overlapping of paid annual leave and sick leave according to which, a worker who is on sick leave during a period of previously scheduled annual leave has the right to take his annual leave at a later time which does not coincide with the period of sick leave.

However, the Court stresses that, contrarily to sick leave, the right to special leave can only arise when the event justifying it occurs during a working period. Consequently, a worker could not possibly – during his weekly rest period or during his annual leave – exercise his/her right to paid special leave, as it is inextricably linked to working time.

Finally, the Court recalls that, while a period of leave guaranteed under EU law cannot affect the right to take another period of leave also guaranteed by EU law, this principle does not apply to paid special leave, as this type of leave fall outside the scope of EU law.

In conclusion, where a period of annual leave overlap with an event giving rise to the benefit of a special leave, the worker is not entitled to rearrange his/her annual leave under the Working Time Directive.

[i] ECJ, C‑588/18, 4 june 2020, Fetico and Others v Grupo de Empresas DIA S.A. and Twins Alimentación S.A.,

[ii] Article 5 of the same Directive lays down the minimum weekly rest periods workers are entitled to.

[iii] Pursuant to Article 7 of the Directive, all employees are entitled to a period of paid annual leave of at least four weeks