European Court of Justice rules that employers should class travelling time as ‘working time’

Are you one of the many thousands of non-office-based freelancer workers or self-employed contractors who feel aggrieved at not being able to claim travelling time during the working day? Well, Steven Glicher accountants have some good news that just might brighten your day. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has decided that contractors and freelancers with no fixed – that is, mobile workers – should be allowed to claim travel time (that is, between their first and last journeys of the day) as ‘working time’ with their employers.
As things currently stand, freelancers and contractors are not allowed to do this. The ruling, therefore, could mean that firms employing workers like electricians, care workers, gas fitters and sales reps could potentially soon fall foul of new EU working time regulations.

Why has the European Court decided to rule on this issue? Well, the ECJ said it made the decision to protect the “health and safety” of workers under the provisions of the European Union’s Working Time Directive.

The ruling relates to recent legal Spanish case involving Tyco, a security systems company. In judgement the ECJ ruled that:

“The fact that the workers begin and finish the journeys at their homes stems directly from the decision of their employer to abolish the regional offices and not from the desire of the workers themselves.”

“Requiring them to bear the burden of their employer’s choice would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by the directive, which includes the necessity of guaranteeing workers a minimum rest period.”

“Where workers, such as those in the situation at issue [Tyco], do not have a fixed or habitual place of work, the time spent by those workers travelling each day between their homes and the premises of the first and last customers designated by their employer constitutes working time within the meaning of the directive.”

What are the implications for European businesses, and how will the ECJ ruling be interpreted by employers? Well, in the opinion of Chris Tutton, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, the ruling may force employers to change contractor working patterns, or worse might potentially lead to many business owners asking staff to voluntarily opt out of the European Union’s 48-hour week Working Time Directive:

“Many UK companies do not consider travel time outside normal working hours as working time, but now that the ECJ has said that it should, thousands of companies may need to make changes, for example, by ensuring that assignments at the start and end of the day are near employees’ homes, adjusting working hours generally or asking employees to opt out of the 48-hour working week.”

“If they don’t, employees could quickly exceed the number of working hours that they are legally allowed to work and bosses could therefore soon find that they are operating illegally and at risk of facing costly claims against them,” he added.

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