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Court of Justice ruling on sick leave during annual leave could be a massive burden for SMEs

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Almost two thirds (61%) of HR magazine readers approve of the EU Court of Justice ruling allowing employees who go on sick leave during annual leave to reschedule their holidays, even if this means carrying holiday into a subsequent year.

This ruling will please many employees but displease many employers, particularly in the SME sector.  In principle, I can understand why HR professionals feel this is a proper and humane judgment, because an illness, in most instances, is out of the employee's control and recovery from some conditions is not exactly a holiday. 

On the other hand, from a small or medium-sized employer's point of view, losing valuable ‘work time' through sick leave and then a holiday entitlement, particularly at a time when there has been so much downsizing due to the recession, is likely to put a massive burden on the remaining employees. 

Many employers are already in overdrive, trying desperately to recover from a long and severe downturn, where every employee becomes critical to meeting new orders and business success. 

My own view would be that in principle the Court of Justice ruling should be applied and honoured, but that employees who have had sick leave ought to take into account the circumstances in their particular organisation at the time, and ensure they take their holiday at a time that is convenient for the business and their colleagues, rather than insist on it at a time when it could adversely affect the business. 

After all, we have over the years talked about the psychological contract between employer and employee. This contract should be reciprocal with employers guaranteeing certain rights and benefits but with employees showing some loyalty as well.

Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School