• Heidi Thompson
  • 10 September 2015

Work is work

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered its verdict that travel time to and from work for non-office based employees will now be classed as working time.

Originally the case centred on a Spanish company whose employees were required to travel between client premises, installing and maintaining security equipment.  The employees became home-based due to the closure of their office.  The argument started as to whether the time spent travelling at the start and the end of their working day should be classed as ‘working time’.

Previously, under the Working Time Regulations it was considered that working time did not include travel to and from work.  The company therefore argued that this remained the same, even with the change to a home base.   The employees disagreed, stating it should be classed as working time, that the journeys varied greatly, with occasions up to 100km, and that they should also be paid for this additional ‘time’.

As the case rumbled on the Spanish Courts sought clarification on the term ‘working time’ in respect of the EU Working Time Directive and referred the matter to the European Courts.

Today the ECJ has ruled that travelling to and from the first and last appointments by employees with no fixed office should be regarded as working time.   This is a significant change and is likely to affect thousands of employees such as carers, engineers, sales reps and ultimately anyone without an office base.

What happens next?

There are two key points that employers who employ non-office-based staff should consider in respect of this change. 

Firstly, the additional hours that will now be classed as working time may push these employees over the 48-hour weekly limit in respect of the Working Time Regulations.  Of course this has to be as an average over a 17-week reference period, and employees can opt out of this limit. 

The second issue surrounds pay, and whether this means these employees may now fall under the National Minimum Wage limit when the additional hours are included.

However, it is important to recognise that the two pieces of legislation are not linked, and the National Minimum Wage does exempt travel time from payment.  This means that a separate legal claim would need to be established to enforce this change.

Overall, the purpose of this claim was to protect the health and safety of employees in the workplace and to prevent working hours in addition of 48 hours.  It should be noted that only the UK allows employees to opt out of this limit and as such this ruling will have even more significance across the rest of the EU.

In the UK, employers with non-office-based staff should now consider the potential impact in relation to working hours and pay for those employees.  We are likely to hear more over the coming days and weeks regarding these changes and it’s vital that employers establish the changes they may need to make.

If you would like to discuss this ruling in more detail or seek advice on the impact of your workforce then please contact us on +44 (0)871 777 8881.