European Court decision could result in changes for all UK firms with mobile staff

The case relates to a Spanish-based security system installation company called Tyco Integrated Security SL. 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.

Following a claim brought by technicians, the Spanish courts referred the case to the ECJ to consider how this travel time at the start and end of the day should be treated.

When handing down his opinion on the case earlier this year, the Advocate General (AG) said that the travel time should be classified as working time.

The ECJ has agreed and declared that where workers do not have a fixed or habitual place of work, the time spent by 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. Workers in such a situation (who are travelling as a requirement by their employers) should therefore be considered to be carrying out their duties over the whole duration of those journeys.

The ruling means that Courts and Tribunals in the UK will now have to treat such travel time as working time.

The European Working Time Directive provides employees with a number of rights including limits on the number of hours they can work, and entitlements to rest breaks, breaks between working days and holiday entitlement. The Directive states that unless employees opt out, they can only be required to work a maximum of 48 hours per week.

Chris Tutton, an employment partner at national law firm, Irwin Mitchell 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.

“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.”