Thousands of employers may be forced to rewrite shift patterns due to the
latest European ruling on working time regulations.
The judgment, expressed by the Advocate General and almost certain to be
confirmed by the full court later this year, contradicts the UK’s
interpretation of what counts as working time.
It causes further confusion for employers just as they were welcoming government
simplification of the hours law.
New guidance, due at the end of January, will have to be rewritten for a
third time if and when the ruling is ratified.
The key aspect of the decision is that time spent "on-call" at the
workplace does constitute working time.
Where the on-call period is spent away from work, only the time spent
actually working counts. But crucially, staff will be entitled to an 11-hour
rest break after a period on-call at home even if they are not called upon.
Organisations which have a high proportion of staff "on-call",
including the NHS, utilities, local authorities and breakdown services, will be
Health service HR managers said the ruling could worsen nursing shortages
because of greater restrictions on shift patterns.
"In terms of some of our staff, that interpretation could have very
serious consequences," said Liz Jones, deputy director of personnel at
Airedale NHS Trust.
Philippa Stokes, manager of employee relations at the AA, said it would have
to look again at its policies.
"It makes things extremely difficult for employers who are trying to
run a business," she said.
Chris Mordue, associate in the employment department at Pinsent Curtis, said
more employers will have to use opt-out agreements with staff to stay within
"Everyone is going to have to go back to the drawing board. It may
require more amendments to the regulations and it would certainly require the
guidance to be amended," he said.
By John Robinson