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Why you get paid MORE when you take time off in Sweden

Why you get paid MORE when you take time off in Sweden
It sounds too good to be true, but in Sweden you often get paid a (small) bonus when you go on vacation. Photo: Kristin Lidell/imagebank.sweden.se
Workers in Sweden enjoy relatively generous rights, especially when it comes to holiday. In fact, you actually get paid a bonus for not being at work.

OK, it’s not quite that simple. But most employees of Swedish companies receive an extra so-called ‘holiday supplement’ or ‘holiday salary’ when they take their annual leave.

Workplaces in Sweden must offer employees a minimum of 25 days’ paid annual leave, while many companies offer more, particularly for long-term employees. Each tax year, a minimum of 20 of those days must be taken as holiday, and employees can roll over the remainder (in other words, up to five days if they have the standard 25 days’ holiday, plus any extra days their workplace gives them).

This is paid vacation, so employees are paid their normal salary for those days, and they also get a small additional bonus.

This little extra, called holiday salary or semesterlön or semestertillägg, is calculated as a percentage of your monthly salary.

Depending on your employment contract, this might be paid out in a lump sum once a year or added on to your monthly payslip, usually the month after you take the holiday.

As for the why, there’s a historical reason and an economic reason. 

The semesterlön was first introduced for workers on a variable salary, such as hourly workers or workers on commission. A semesterlön of 12 percent their total annual salary was introduced for this category of employees to ensure that people on atypical contracts were still able to take vacation from work. This is generally paid annually for people with variable salaries.

In 2010, Sweden’s Annual Leave Act was updated and this included a provision for holiday pay for workers on fixed salaries so that they would not be disadvantaged.

For workers on a fixed monthly salary, by law the semestertillägg is 0.43 percent of the total monthly salary per holiday day, and this is typically paid the month after the leave was taken.

But many collective bargaining agreements stipulate that it should be a higher percentage of the total monthly salary, so if your workplace has such an agreement (called kollektivavtal in Swedish) it is these rules that apply. The way that Swedish laws on working conditions and holiday work means that collective bargaining agreements can override the law only if they offer conditions that are more advantageous for the employee.

By this point, holiday pay has become convention. It encourages employees to actually take their holiday, because there’s a financial incentive to do so. It is possible to cash in some of your unused holiday at the end of your employment, in which case you get a lump sum of semesterersättning (literally ‘holiday compensation’) which is equal to your pay for that day plus the semesterlön or semestertillägg

And of course, it may boost employee morale if they’re receiving a little extra spending money to use on their break from work.

As a worker in Sweden, the important thing is that you’re aware of your rights and that you make extra sure to check your payslip after taking your accrued holiday.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

Why do Swedes take such long summer holidays? Find out in The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast:


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