17 September 2015

Mobile workers in Europe and the working time directive: business faces higher costs

This article was written by Tamsin Rickard.

We updated you in July about a potential ruling from the European Court of Justice (the “ECJ”) that travelling time to and from work might count as working time for some peripatetic workers.

The ECJ has now confirmed that position.

The decision has provoked widespread press coverage including headlines implying that travelling to work “is work”, but the court's ruling was fairly limited: it related only to workers with no fixed workplace to report to at the start and end of each working day. In this case, the workers' itinerary was dictated to them by their employer on a daily basis so they were effectively at their employer's disposal as soon as they left home. Unlike an employee with a fixed base, who could move closer to work or use a different mode of transport, there was little these workers could do to minimise travel time. As a result the ECJ found that their working time included the journeys to the first appointment of the day, and home again at the end, taking into account the health and safety aims of the Working Time Directive.

Employers of mobile or peripatetic workers, such as delivery, care or maintenance staff who do not attend a base location but travel as part of their work to a number of different locations as their employer dictates, should address the impact of this ruling now. This may include the following additional obligations:

  • additional rest breaks for the mobile workers to reflect their longer “working day”, potentially entailing the need for more staff to pick up any slack;
  • increased pay obligations, depending on the terms of the workers’ contracts;
  • some employers may be concerned that this ruling is open to abuse, with workers taking detours on the way home to conduct personal business thereby extending their apparent "working time”; it may be advisable to put in place procedures dealing with this.

The precise impact will vary across EU countries, depending on how they have implemented the Working Time Directive. This may not be the end of the story – this ruling may open the door to further attempts to redefine the scope of working time where staff have a peripatetic element to their duties.

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