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ECJ ruling to have “significant implications” for fleets with field workers

The European Court of Justice has ruled that working time starts from the moment a field employee leaves home, rather than arrives for their first appointment.

The case relates to Spanish security system installation firm Tyco Integrated Security SL which closed its offices in the provinces in 2011 and assigned all its employees to the central office in Madrid.

The firm’s technicians use company vehicles to travel to appointments across Spain, but the employer does not treat the first journey of the day (from home to the first appointment) or the last journey of the day (from the last assignment to home), as 'working time'. Instead they regard this travel time as “rest time” under the Working Time Directive.

In response the Court of Justice has declared that where workers, such as those in the situation at issue, 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.

It added: “The Court considers workers in such a situation to be carrying out their activity or duties over the whole duration of those journeys. The journeys of the workers to the customers their employer designates is a necessary means of providing their technical services at the premises of those customers. Not taking those journeys into account would enable Tyco to claim that only the time spent carrying out the activity of installing and maintaining the security systems falls within the concept of working time, which would distort that concept and jeopardise the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers.”

According to the employment specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell, the case could impact on thousands of companies.

Christopher Tutton, partner, said: "This ruling will have significant implications for companies that employ mobile workers who spend a lot of their time travelling to different appointments. It is not just relevant to maintenance technicians, it could apply to salespeople or care workers who visit those that they look after in their homes or even employees who travel regularly overseas through work.

"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.”

In the UK the ruling could also significantly increase payroll costs for firms with field workers. Although the ECJ has pointed out that the Working Time Directive does not apply to the remuneration of workers, businesses will need to be ensure that they don’t fall foul of the National Minimum Wage Act when taking into account the additional travel time.

Christopher Tutton added: "The UK Government will also be under pressure by unions and workers in relation to issues surrounding the National Minimum Wage Regulations to require employers to pay for this time. Currently, travel from a worker's home to their place of work is not counted and does not have to be paid. Where home is their effective place of work, it will be difficult for the Government to sustain an argument that time that is deemed to form part of a worker's hours should not be paid for and if employers are required to pay for this, it could dramatically increase the payroll costs of businesses who employ low paid staff." 

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.