BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's highest court ruled on Wednesday that employers must provide paid annual leave for employees in a case that could impact workers in the "gig" economy.
The case involved a salesman for The Sash Window Workshop Ltd in Britain employed from 1999 until 2012 on a self-employed commission-only contract with unpaid annual leave.
The salesman took the company to court seeking payment for leave, taken and not paid as well as for days not taken.
A British court ruled that he was a "worker" under EU law, but UK judges asked the European Court of Justice whether the company was obliged to pay him for the leave he had not actually taken.
The EU court said it was a fundamental right for workers to be able to rest and that such a right would not be guaranteed if the salesman was forced to take unpaid leave and only then be able to bring action to claim payment.
Companies could limit the accumulation of paid leave, with workers losing their right to leave if they did not take holidays within a given period. However, a company should not be enriched by extinguishing a worker's right to paid leave.
"An employer that does not allow a worker to exercise his right to paid annual leave must bear the consequences," the court said.
The ruling could have an impact on employment in the so-called "gig" economy, which include short-term and freelance contracts rather than permanent jobs.
(Reporting by Lily Cusack; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alison Williams)