However, if the employee has not fully used or applied for his annual leave during the year in question, then according to the most recent case-law of the ECJ it may not be forfeited. Thus, the previously common German practice, according to which the holidays not taken to 31.12. - no later than 31.03. of the following year - expires, turned upside down.
ECJ, judgment v. 06.11.2018 - C-684/16
The plaintiff was employed as a scientist for the defendant since 01.08.2001. The employment relationship has been extended several times, most recently until 31.12.2012. In May 2013, a project manager sent an e-mail to a number of employees, including the plaintiff, indicating that employees could not be paid or transferred to a new employer. In October 2013, the claimant was informed that his expiring contract at the end of the year would not be renewed. He was also asked to take unused vacation until then. At the end of his contract, the plaintiff had not used 51 days of leave. On December 23, 2013, the plaintiff wrote a letter to the defendant, in which he demanded the settlement of unclaimed leave. The defendant declined this by letter of 10.01.2014. It took the view that the plaintiff's leave until 31.12. would have to avail.
Against this, the plaintiff brought an action before the Labor Court on 25.06.2014. The plaintiff took the view that he was entitled to a claim for compensation under § 7 (4) of the BUrlG, as he was unable to claim his leave in kind due to urgent operational reasons before the employment relationship expired. In particular, the statutory forfeiture under § 7 (3) BUrlG does not apply to compensation claims. The defendant, however, took the view that it was crucial that the holiday must be taken in the current calendar year, otherwise this would expire. This applies all the more to the termination of the employment relationship, since the legislature does not want to leave the worker the choice to take the leave or to receive compensation for leave not taken.
The Labor Court had granted the claim. The appeal lodged against this by the defendant was unsuccessful. The BAG submitted the case to the ECJ on 13.12.2016 with the question whether § 7 BUrlG conflicts with Article 7 (1) of the EC Treaty 88/2003 or Article 31 (2) of the GRC.
The ECJ ruled that § 7 BUrlG was not in accordance with the European regulations and therefore could not be applied in the specific case. It is therefore contrary to the Directive and contrary to Article 31 (2) GRC to the effect that, at the end of the reference period, an employee automatically loses his leave entitlement and, on termination of his employment, his right to compensation for leave not taken, provided that he has not applied for leave during the reference period, It has not been checked beforehand that the employer has effectively empowered the employee, for example by providing sufficient information, to exercise the right. The burden of proof is borne by the employer. Can this "not prove that he has acted with all due care, in fact, to enable the employee to take his or her paid annual leave ", it is contrary to the principle that the leave entitlement ceases at the end of the reference or transfer period and the leave is not paid on termination of the employment relationship. On the other hand, where the employee, on his own initiative and with full knowledge of the consequences, has not taken leave after being able to exercise his right, Article 31 (2) GRCh does not preclude the loss of the right or right to compensation.
In der Praxis wird das Urteil zu umfassenden Informationsmaßnahmen der Arbeitgeber gegenüber ihren Arbeitnehmern führen, insbesondere in Form einer rechtzeitigen Mitteilung, wie viel Resturlaub der einzelne Arbeitnehmer für das Jahr noch beanspruchen kann, verbunden mit der Aufforderung, diesen im laufenden Jahr noch zu beanspruchen, da ansonsten der Anspruch bis zum 31.03. des Folgejahres verfalle.
Entscheidend wird es zukünftig sein, die getätigten Aufklärungen zu dokumentieren. Statt mündlicher Aufklärung sollte diese daher wenigstens in Textform erfolgen sowie mit einer Empfangsbestätigung versehen werden. Auch in der Vertragspraxis sollte in Zukunft verstärkt darauf geachtet werden, dass die zumeist bereits übliche Trennung von vertraglichem und gesetzlichem Urlaubsanspruch gesondert hervorgehoben wird. Denn die obige Rechtsprechung findet vor allem in Bezug auf den gesetzlichen Urlaub Anwendung, da eine Andersbehandlung von vertraglichen Urlaubsansprüchen höchstrichterlich gestattet ist. Insbesondere sollte weiterhin darauf geachtet werden, dass die primäre Abgeltung des gesetzlichen Urlaubs vertraglich festgehalten wird. Denn dieser wird dadurch zumeist am Jahresende verbraucht sein, so dass die hiesige Streitfrage dann nicht droht.