Fleet decision-makers are assessing what, if any, impact a travel to work ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will have on their operations.
Until now, those employing mobile workers who had to travel to or from their first or last appointment of the day were not required to count that time as work.
However, the ECJ made a ruling last week that those without a fixed or habitual office – so-called peripatetic workers – should consider the time they spend travelling between their homes and the premises of their first and last jobs as part of their hours for the day.
Commuting to and from work is not regarded as working time for non-peripatetic employees and the ECJ ruling does not change that.
The ruling relates to the working time directive. It gives workers the right to a minimum 28-days of paid holidays each year, a 20-minute rest break after six hours work, rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours, restricts excessive night work, 24 hours off after seven days of work, and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week over a cycle.
In the UK, employees have the option of opting out of the directive, but the TUC estimates that as many as 975,000 people in the UK could fall under the remit of the judgement.
GMB, the union for British Gas, The AA, meter readers and home care workers welcomed the ruling.
Kathleen Walker Shaw, GMB Europe officer, said: “GMB welcomes judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union as important confirmation that the journeys made by workers without a fixed or habitual place of work between their homes and the first and last customer of the day constitute working time.”
The ruling came about because of an ongoing legal case in Spain involving a company called Tyco, which installs security systems. The company shut its regional offices down in 2011, resulting in employees travelling varying distances before arriving at their first appointment.
The court ruling said: “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.”
British Gas, The AA and the RAC told Fleet News that they were “assessing” the implications of the ECJ judgement.
Elizabeth Slattery, head of employment at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: “Businesses who don’t already pay peripatetic employees for their travelling time at the start and end of the day may now face pressure to do so and face challenges in monitoring this.
“If mobile employees already opt out of maximum weekly working time, this decision shouldn’t mean that existing working hours have to be reduced.
“However, employers will need to check that peripatetic employees are able to take at least 11 hours’ rest between getting home at night and setting off again the following morning.”
The UK Government has argued that including travel time in working time would lead to higher costs for businesses, and has said that the business department will now have to carefully consider the judgment’s implications.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors (IoD) branded the ECJ a “red-tape machine” that is “tormenting” firms across Europe.
Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the IoD, said: “The notion that the period mobile workers spend travelling between home and their first client in the morning must count as working time goes above and beyond the protections intended by the law.”
She concluded: “The working time directive needs to be reviewed, in order to resolve the lingering questions which are now being ruled on by the ECJ.”