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Why Europe's Laws On Vacations Are Better Than Your Wildest Dreams (and How Badly Americans Get Screwed)

We work ourselves to death, while people in other countries take holidays, get family leave and have paid sick time during vacations.

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Imagine this: You work 25 hours a week at the McDonald’s in Cairo, New York, and have finally earned two weeks of paid vacation. You set out on a bike trip. On the first day in the saddle, you hit a pothole and crash, cracking your collar bone. You sit on your couch for the rest of your vacation watching the Tour de France. Tough luck.

Unless you worked for McDonald’s in Europe. If you did, you would be entitled to a fully paid do-over, according to a June 21 ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the highest court in Europe (whose rulings must be followed by all member states). This court ruled that all European workers are entitled to their full vacation after they have healed:

“A worker who becomes unfit during his paid annual leave, is entitled at a later point to a period of leave of the same duration as that of his sick leave.”

This means that European workers can take their paid sick leave during their paid vacations, and take their vacations all over again, and guess what? American corporations who do business in Europe, like McDonalds, have to pay for it!

And the comparisons between American and European workplaces get worse: Not only do American corporations with operations in Europe have to provide their workers with paid sick leave during worker vacations, but also, by law they have to provide paid vacations in the first place, which in most countries amounts to a month or more.

In the U.S. there is no legal obligation at all. If you get a paid vacation it’s either because the company “gave” it to you or because you achieved it through collective bargaining. Here’s a table comparing developed nations by statutory minimum annual leave and paid public holidays. Read ‘em and weep.

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(click for larger version)

What about paid medicalleave?

Fuggetaboutit. We don’t have any laws that mandate paid leave for pregnancy, sickness, or care of sick family members. When it comes to paid maternity leave, the U.S. is one of four countries, out of 173 studied, that fails to provide paid maternity leave. The other three are Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. (I guess with all our money going to Wall Street, we can’t afford it.)

Wait, wait, This just in: We do have the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides us with the legal right to request unpaid medical leave. Well not quite. You have to work at an employer with 50 or more employees or work in the public sector, and you have to have to meet certain conditions to be eligible. The net result, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is that only “slightly more than half (54.9 percent) of U.S. workers (and 46.5 percent of private sector workers) also meet the FMLA's length of service and hours related eligibility requirements.”

So if you work at McDonalds in Vienna, Austria, by law you get a full month off (22 work days) in your first year plus 13 paid public holidays for a total of 35 days. And after six years of flipping burgers you get 36 days of paid vacation plus 13 paid public holidays for a total of 49 paid vacation and public holidays – that’s more than two months off, paid! (That’s in addition to your paid sick leave, maternity and paternity paid leave, and paid leave to care for a sick relative.) And you’re covered whether you’re a full-time manager or a part-time employee.

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