UK employers can breathe a sigh of relief after the European Court of
Justice endorsed their approach to the working time directive.
The SIMAP judgement concerned the interpretation of the directive’s key
concept – what counts as working time.
This is defined in the directive as when a worker is "working, at his
employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities and duties". The ECJ
said on-call hours spent away from the workplace did not count because although
the worker was at the employer’s disposal, he was not "working" or
"carrying out activities or duties".
"This decision will come as an enormous relief to employers and the
DTI," said Christopher Mordue, an employment solicitor at Pinsent Curtis.
If the decision had gone the other way, he said, "the UK’s approach to
working time would have been thrown entirely into disarray and working time
could have returned as a major issue for employers".
But Mordue said other aspects of the judgement were not so good for
employers. For instance, on-call workers may qualify as night workers and be
subject to further limits on their hours, as well as being entitled to health
assessments and transfers to suitable day work in certain circumstances.