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Mobile Employees Win Landmark Working Time Debate

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

In a groundbreaking decision which will benefit hundreds of thousands of employees who have no fixed place of work and travel directly between their homes and customers’ premises, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that time spent on the road is working time which must be taken into account when calculating entitlement to rest periods.

The case concerned a Spanish security equipment company which managed a web of operatives across the country from its central office in Madrid. Employees, who used company-owned vehicles, were despatched from their homes to customers’ premises by mobile phone as the need arose. In some instances, workers travelled long distances and for several hours to serve clients.

In those circumstances, an issue arose as to whether time they spent driving between their homes and their first and last customers each day was working time within the meaning of Directive 2003/88/EEC. That question was referred to the ECJ for a preliminary opinion by the Spanish High Court and was considered of such importance that the UK government intervened in the case, laying particular stress on the potential cost implications for employers.

The company argued that the workers were entitled to choose their own routes and travel itineraries and were thus not at its disposal whilst travelling between home and customers’ premises. It treated hours spent on the road as rest periods which did not count towards the nine-hour maximum working day envisaged by the Directive. Employees’ time at work was calculated on the basis of the time of their arrival at the premises of their first daily client and their departure from the last.

In ruling on the issue, the ECJ found that, where workers do not have a fixed or habitual place of work, time spent travelling between their homes and the premises of clients designated by their employer is working time. Travelling was an integral part of the employees’ duties and they could not be expected to bear the entire burden of the company’s strategy of dispensing with regional offices.

The company’s interpretation of the Directive, if correct, would distort and jeopardise the objective of promoting the health and safety of workers by ensuring that they enjoy minimum rest periods and that at least 12 hours elapses between the end of one working day and the start of the next. That conclusion could not be called into question by the UK government’s concern that employers would be placed under a greater financial and administrative burden. Remaining issues in the underlying litigation would now be resolved by the Spanish court in the light of the ECJ’s ruling.

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