06/25/2012 01:34 pm ET

Europeans Who Get Sick On Vacation Can Take Another One, Court Rules

We've all been there: You’re eagerly waiting to take off on a well-earned vacation, only the person next to you on the plane can’t stop sneezing. A week later, your vacation is over and you’ve been too sick to leave your hotel.

Now, employees in Europe need not worry if that happen, thanks to a new ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which finds that employees can trade those vacation days for sick days to use their holiday time later (h/t: Courthouse News). The case began after several Spanish trade unions argued that collective bargaining agreements noted the difference between sick days and vacation days, The New York Times reports.

"The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure,” the court ruled. “The purpose of entitlement to sick leave is different, since it enables a worker to recover from an illness that has caused them to be unfit for work.”

Don't expect such a ruling on this side of the Atlantic anytime soon. Almost half of Americans don’t even use up the vacation time they are allotted, according to a recent survey. All together, Americans left about 226 million vacation days on the table last year, which adds up to $34.3 billion worth of extra time worked. Often regarded as too busy to take the extra vacation days amid a fragile job market, the added productivity has been of great benefit to employers.

Add to the list of ways vacation differs in Europe and the United States the sheer number of days off allowed. A study from last December put the average number of vacation days offered by employers at 25. Austrians, by contrast, receive 38 government-mandated vacations days per year.

Americans also apparently underutilize their sick days, especially following the recession. In the first three months of last year, the rate of sick days used was less than half of what it was during the same time period in 2006.

See the countries with the most holiday time below:

The 10 Countries With The Most Holidays