Described as one of the most confusing pieces of legislation of recent years, how are firms coping with the Working Time directive?
As the Working Time regulations approach their second birthday next month, two reports out last week highlight the problems for employers still struggling to put this confusing piece of legislation into practice.
Figures from the annual Acas report (Personnel Today, 5 September) show the number of tribunals on the Working Time directive has soared from 1,953 in May 1999 to 5,580 a year later.
And the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux published a report last week that claims thousands of working people are being deprived of their statutory right to paid holiday.
The report, Wish you were here?, draws on evidence collected from more than 300 citizens advice bureaux across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, revealing how employers avoid giving paid leave, offering diverse and frequently misleading excuses.
While the report focuses on employers who intentionally withhold this right, it is clear that grey areas within the directive itself present problems to employers who are keen to uphold the law.
"The Working Time directive is one of the most confusing pieces of legislation introduced over the last few years," says Frederique Bosvieux, senior policy adviser in the HR directorate at the CBI. "Many employers have found the regulations difficult to interpret."
Acas chairwoman Rita Donaghy told Personnel Today that the number of calls received each year by Acas has increased from half a million to three-quarters of a million in the past two years.
"A large number of people called us with questions about the Working Time directive and paid holidays. I found it surprising the number of employees and employers who are not aware of the amount of paid holiday that people are entitled to," she said.
Russell Brimelow, head of employment law at Boodle Hatfield, pointed out that prior to the introduction of the directive there was no statutory right to paid holiday. Little surprise, then, that it is this area that has dominated tribunal cases. "From my experience at least two-thirds of contentious issues have been over the right to paid holiday," he says.
Casual or temporary staff present particular problems. Employees qualify for paid leave only after 13 consecutive weeks' work, but determining that this has happened is not always a s