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Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

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Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden
Already excited about the summer holidays? Here's what you need to know. File photo: Pexels
15:09 CEST+02:00
If you've secured a job in Sweden, congratulations! Not only will you be working in the land of fika breaks, flat hierarchies, and family-friendly work policy, but you'll also enjoy one of the most generous annual leave policies on the planet. Holiday is regulated by a specific law, which means that as an employee you have a lot of rights, but also that they can be tough to fully understand. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about holiday in Sweden.

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Sweden has had an Annual Leave Act (semesterlagen or 'holiday law') since 1938, when employees were first given the right to two weeks' annual holiday. Over the following decades this law has been adapted and extended, with the current version introduced in the 1970s and offering full-time employees five weeks' vacation.

Any employment contract offering a worse deal than the Annual Leave Act is invalid under Swedish law. If you have a kollektivavtal (collective agreement) or a similar agreement at your workplace, you may have more holiday days (and other perks), but not fewer.

Who is covered by the law?

Full-time and part-time employees in Sweden are both covered by the Annual Leave Act, although if you work part-time or irregular hours, you will receive a different number of vacation days. A standard working week is 40 hours, so the number of days will be calculated based on what fraction of that figure you work.

One big exception is if the employment is only scheduled to last for three months, and doesn't end up being extended beyond that, in which case any time off will usually be arranged at the beginning of the employment.

The basics

Employees in Sweden have the right to take at least 25 days of holiday each year. Of those, 20 days (four working weeks, apart from in a few industries where this is slightly shorter, or if your employment contract says something else) can be taken consecutively during the summer months of June, July, and August, although this isn't necessarily a must.

Many Swedes escape to their summer houses in the warmer months. Photo: Lina Roos/imagebank.sweden.se

The 'holiday year' runs from April 1st to March 31st, and the year prior to the current one is called the intjänandeår or 'qualifying year'. Each year you 'earn' the holiday days for the following year (note that time spent on sick leave or parental leave also counts towards earning holiday days). So every April 1st, your 25 new holiday days come into effect. Much nicer than an April fool!

What are my holiday entitlements during the first year of work?

Because you earn holiday days by working, this gets a bit confusing, and it's something to clarify with your employer after receiving a job offer. You should also bear in mind that there's a difference between holiday (which you're almost always entitled to) and paid holiday (which needs to be earned through working a certain amount of time). 

If you begin work after August 31st, you are only entitled to five (unpaid) vacation days until the following April 1st. This is because of the expectation that most employees will take their holidays in a lump each summer. In practice. Many employers will in practice let you take more time off than this, though it may not be paid.

Then, during your first full holiday year, the number of paid days you're entitled to is calculated based on what proportion of the qualifying year you spent working. So if you've worked for the entire year, you'll get 25 paid holiday days, but if you've worked for only half the year, you'll only get half that amount – any fractions are always rounded up. In addition to the paid holiday you've accrued, you have the right to take unpaid holiday in order to reach the full 25 days' allowance, but you can waive your right to unpaid leave if you prefer to work instead.

Do I have to use up all my holiday?

Five weeks' annual leave will be a step up from what many international workers are used to, particularly if you come from outside Europe. While the majority will probably be excited about the opportunity to take time off to explore their new country, or escape the Swedish weather for a few weeks, it's worth knowing that you aren't obligated to use all 25 days each year.

Employees must take 20 of their vacation days each year, but any days over that amount can be saved for up to five years, and then added on to annual leave in a future year. That means an additional 25 days' holiday by the fifth year, if you have the minimum entitlement of 25 vacation days and save the maximum number of days each year. This is particularly useful if you hope to take time off to travel long-term in a few years' time – or perhaps a long trip to visit friends and family back home.

Make sure to find out exactly what the policy in your workplace is. Photo: Pexels

However, it's not possible to save up holiday days and use saved days in the same year, meaning that you can't 'cycle' holiday days so you've always got some saved. So in the fifth year of employment, if you're using days saved up from 'year 1', you also need to take out all 25 days of that year's annual leave. This is to avoid employees accruing so much holiday that it could be damaging to the company if that employee suddenly left their job, since the earned holiday would have to be converted to extra pay.

And what if I don't take all 20 days?

The idea of the Swedish law is to encourage employees to take all the holiday they're entitled to, and employers are expected to ensure this happens. However, if you've not managed to take all 20 vacation days, for example if you fell ill during scheduled holiday, you won't be able to roll over any of them, but they will get converted to money, paid in the form of semesterersättning or holiday compensation. 

Are there any other rules about how holiday should be taken?

The law doesn't recognize half-days as holiday days; this is because of the idea that you need to take full days in order to be fully rested. However, workplaces often offer alternative solutions, such as saving up overtime to take off a half-day in lieu, or flexible hours, so speak to your manager or HR representative to find out the best solution available at your company. 

You should also remember that you don't need to use up annual leave for things like medical or dental appointments, sick leave, or for a child's illness.

And read through your employment contract and/or collective agreement thoroughly to make sure you know any extra perks or changes. For example, some trade unions include an extra week off in the year of your 40th birthday in their collective agreements, while others have different holiday entitlements for different age groups.

How does holiday pay work?

Not only do you get paid your normal salary during holiday (according to the rules explained above), but you also get a small bonus or semesterlön, calculated as a percentage of your salary. This is usually paid out the month after holiday is taken, meaning that if you go away in June, you'll receive an increased salary in July.

Can my boss refuse my holiday – or make me work?

Yes, but usually only with a good reason. Most Swedish work contracts state that you can take your annual leave at a time of your choice as long as it doesn't conflict with the needs of the company, meaning that your boss may require you to schedule holidays around colleagues' absences, important company events and so on.

Time off during popular periods (summer, or close to public holidays) might be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis (in which case get your request in quick, as Swedes are known for planning well in advance!) or there may be a company-wide discussion to ensure everyone's needs are taken into consideration. Either way, make sure to find out what the practice is in your workplace and whether there are any key dates or periods you'll definitely be needed at work, or certain co-workers you should co-ordinate with.

If you and your boss don't agree on when you should take holiday, your boss has the final say. However, if that's the case, the holiday will usually fall in the summer months – so you can't be forced to take time off in December, for example, and they must give you two months' notice.

It is legal for your boss to ask you to return to work during an agreed holiday, however this is only allowed in extreme cases where the company's ability to function is at risk, for example if almost everyone else falls ill or if some other extreme event occurs.

What about public holidays?

Sweden also has several public holidays, often called 'red days' or röda dagar. If these fall on a weekend, you don't automatically get a corresponding weekday off, as is the case in the UK for example, so the exact number of days off changes each year.

Midsummer is one of the most beloved Swedish holidays. Photo: Werner Nystrand/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

However, many workplaces do offer a day in lieu when public holidays coincide with a weekend, and others also give employees a klämdag (literally a 'squeeze day') which means that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you also get the Monday or Friday off to extend the weekend. On top of that, many workplaces close at midday the day before certain red days, giving an extra half day off. This all depends on any collective agreement your workplace is a part of, or specific company policy, so check exactly what applies to you.

What happens if I'm sick during my holiday?

If you fall sick during scheduled holiday time, you have the right to end the holiday period and instead take the time as sick days, meaning you can retake your holiday at a later date. If you need to do this, make sure to contact your employer and report yourself sick on the first day of illness. The requirement is that you should be ill enough that you'd be unable to carry out your regular work.

What if I leave work before taking all my holiday?

If your employment ends and you haven't taken all the holiday days you had earned, you can get holiday pay for those days. This is called semesterersättning, and should be paid out no later than one month after your employment ends.

If you hand in your notice, you have the right to take any holiday which was already scheduled during your notice period. You are not automatically entitled to take out earned holiday which hasn't already been arranged, but it's always worth asking.


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