Mobile workers should be able to claim travel time as 'work'

18th October 2016

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that contractors and freelancers with no fixed office should be allowed to claim travel time as work with employers between their first and last journeys of the day.

At present, freelancers and contractors are not allowed to do so and the ruling could mean firms employing such workers as electricians, gas fitters, care workers and sales reps could soon fall foul of EU working time regulations.

The ECJ said it was protecting the “health and safety” of workers according to the European Union’s Working Time Directive. The ruling relates to recent legal case in Spain involving Tyco, the security systems company.

The ruling stated: “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.”

Chris Tutton, employment partner, Irwin Mitchell, believes the ruling could mean business owners seek to ask staff to opt out of the Working Time Directive’s 48-hour working week.

“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,” said Tutton.

“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.”

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