Holiday Entitlement and Rules in Europe

The year is coming to an end, and for many, this season is an opportunity to take a well-deserved break with their vacation days. For others, due to the nature of their job, the final lapse of the year is a busy time in the office. What happens if, for professional or personal reasons, some vacation days are not taken during the year? In this blog, we give you an overview of important information about vacation rules in Europe.

Paid holidays in Europe

On average, full-time employees in Europe are entitled to a legal minimum of 20 days of paid vacation per year based on a 40-hour work week. Part-time employees are entitled to vacations in proportion to their weekly working time. However, some countries such as Sweden, France and Greece require a minimum of 5 weeks. In addition to the statutory vacations, most employers in practice grant an additional 5 to 10 days.  It is not common for employees to ask for a reduction in salary in exchange for extra time off. In most cases, employees are typically given a certain amount of paid time off (PTO) each year, and they can use this time as they see fit. It is up to the employer to decide whether to grant an employee's request for additional time off, and they may or may not be willing to negotiate a reduction in salary in exchange for this extra time off. In general, it is always best to discuss any changes to your employment agreement with your employer before making any decisions. 

Transferring holidays to the next year

It is important to take care of the remaining vacation days towards the end of the year. However, it can occur that the employees are not able to take all the days they are entitled to before the end of the year. What do the regulations say about when vacation must be taken? The answers vary from country to country in Europe. As a general rule, vacations must be taken in the year in which they are due.  It is the employee's responsibility to request vacation time in writing and the employer must approve it. However, the employer may deny a request for urgent operational reasons or for the vacation request of other employees who, for more pressing reasons, have higher priority. Nevertheless, vacation time must be taken and cannot be replaced by payment under a regular legal obligation. 

European examples

Although employees must use up their leave during the year, in practice, some employers allow employees to carry over the days into the following year. However, this depends on each country.

For example, in the Netherlands, an employee is allowed to spend his or her vacation time 6 months after the end of the year. This means that vacation days accumulated this year cannot, therefore, be taken after July of the following year. After July 2023, vacation days earned in 2022 will lapse. Again, there is an exception to this six-month rule. Employees who have been reasonably unable to take their vacation may, in joint consultation with the employer, decide to extend the period in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, up to a maximum of five years.

In Germany, employees are allowed to carry over their accumulated vacation until the end of March of the following year.

Similarly, in France, employers and employees may agree to carry over unused leave to the following year if the collective agreement so permits. However, this is not mandatory and the employee may lose the days not taken by May 31 of the following year.  

Paid holidays and termination

In certain circumstances, such as termination of employment, the employer must pay the employee for any accrued but unused leave. In most cases, the employer may also require the employee to take the unused leave days during the notice period. For more details on country-specific regulatory requirements, please contact us.   


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Source: Forbes, zdnet

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