Travel to work ruling: What's it all about and who does it affect?

Last week the European Court of Justice made a ruling that those employing workers who had to travel to get to or from their first or last appointment of the day were required to count time spent travelling as ‘working time’ and as part of their usual contractual hours for the day.

The particular case before the Court involved a Spanish company that installed and maintained security systems. Each technician used a company vehicle to travel from their homes to the places where they carried out installation or maintenance and then returned home at the end of the day.

The company did not regard the first journey of the day (from home to the first assignment) or the last journey of the day (from the last assignment home) as working time. The ‘working day’ was therefore calculated from the time the technician arrived at the first assignment and ended when they left their last assignment. Sometimes, the distance to/from home to the assignment was 100 km. 

The ruling related to the ‘Working Time Directive’ which serves to cap the working week at 48 hours. However, employees in the UK may ‘opt out’ of the cap.  It is thought that this Judgement will have a significant impact on ‘peripatetic’ workers, i.e. those workers who do not have a fixed or habitual place of work. 

According to the TUC union it is thought that as many as 950,000 people in the UK could be affected by the ruling.

So if you have employees who work both in an office and remotely, or who check into an office or a base before and at the end of a day, then this ruling is unlikely to have an impact. Likewise, if the contract of employment identifies a permanent base, it is unlikely that the employee will be able to argue that travel time to/from work should count as ‘working time’.  

In the UK it is generally felt that the ruling is most likely to impact on sales people or those working as mobile carers.

However, if you have employees who are genuinely mobile, and do not have a permanent base, then this could mean employers eventually facing increased wage bills. The ruling itself did not directly deal with remuneration, but focused on working hours and conditions.

It may also result in employers having to change work patterns, especially for those employees who choose not to opt out of the 48 hour maximum working hour week.

If you have any doubt as to how this judgement may impact on your business, then contact our Employment team who will be able to offer you expert advice and guidance.