Should time traveling to work count as work? Yes, says Europe's highest court

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that workers without a fixed office who travel to appointments should have that time included as working hours. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Commuters head to trains and subways from Wall Street and the World Trade Center areas at the end of the day, on March 13, 2013 in New York, New York.

In the European Union, time spent traveling to work is work. But some exclusions, however, do apply. 

On Wednesday, Europe's highest court ruled that workers without a fixed office should be paid for the time they spend traveling to and from work. 

“Excluding those journeys from working time would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by EU law,” the court said.

The European Union's labor law aims “to protect workers from exploitation by employers, and it lays down regulations on matters such as how long employees work, how many breaks they have, and how much holiday they are entitled to.”

This could potentially mean “that companies employing such workers as electricians, gas fitters, care workers and sales reps could be in breach of EU working time regulations, if they chose to abandon a regional office, for example,” the Independent notes.

The ruling could have major implications for some employers.

“In certain industries, such as the care industry, it will have a huge impact,” Glenn Hayes, a partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, told The Telegraph. “If you bid for a contract, and your costs go up, it could be potentially astronomical.”

According to the Telegraph, “the judges dismissed arguments from British government lawyers that declaring travelling time as work could be abused by dishonest employees to carry out personal business, saying it was up to companies to prevent that.”

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."

The ruling has come about because of a legal case in Spain involving Tyco, a company that installs security systems.

Critics say the judgment will drive up costs for businesses.

“This could add significantly to the costs of businesses and interfere with long-established business practices. It could hit smaller firms particularly and that would be bad for growth and bad for jobs," Anthea McIntyre, a Conservative member of the European Parliament, told The Telegraph.

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