Maternity leave is distinct from normal holiday entitlements and women are entitled to take it on top of their statutory and negotiated additional annual leave, according to a European Court of Justice ruling.
The case originated in the Spanish national court, which referred questions on Europe-wide directives covering the organisation of working time, the protection of pregnant workers and equal treatment for men and women to the European Court.
According to the ruling, four weeks annual leave is a statutory right “to ensure workers take a proper break.” Maternity leave, however, “is intended to protect a woman's physical condition” and “to protect the special relationship between a woman and her child after childbirth."
The judgement affects all EU member states. In the UK, it means that women are entitled to a minimum of four weeks paid annual leave under the Working Time Regulations as well as statutory maternity leave. Experts say that UK legislation will have to be amended to reflect the ruling.