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When is Stand-by Time Worked at Home “Working Time”?

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In a recent case, a fireman was required to do one week in four on "stand-by". In his case, being on stand-by meant being able to get to the station within 8 minutes. The court found that this duty affected his ability to engage in any leisure activities. As a result, the stand-by time amounted to "working time" for which the fireman should be paid.

The facts

The claimant was a fireman based in Nivelles fire station in Belgium. He was subject to fairly stringent requirements that in essence meant he had to live in a place that enabled him to reach the station within eight minutes. He also had to stay within range of technical devices that would be used to summon him to the station.

In 2009, Mr. Matzak made a claim against the town of Nivelles seeking damages for their failure to pay him for his stand-by services. The Belgium court allowed his claim and Nivelles appealed.

The referring court did not know whether Mr. Mitzak's services within the stand-by time fell within the definition of working time under the appropriate EU law (Directive 2003/88 (the Directive)). They referred this issue to the European Communities Court of Justice who considered the meaning of the Directive:

"[The Directive] lays down minimum safety and health requirements for the organisation of working time. This Directive applies to:

(a)      minimum periods of daily rest, weekly rest and annual leave, to breaks and maximum weekly working time; and 

(b)      certain aspects of night work, shift work and patterns of work."

And in particular, the court considered the following definitions:

  • "working time" means any period during which the worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his activity or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice;
  • "rest period" means any period which is not working time.'

The court looked at Mr. Matzak's particular circumstances and found that his stand-by time must be regarded as 'working time' for which remuneration must be paid. The important factors were the duty to be available to respond to calls and be at the station within 8 minutes that significantly restricted his opportunities for other personal and social activities.

What does it mean for employees?

Stand-by time will not always be regarded as "working time" – it will depend on the circumstances in each case. If an employee can spend stand-by time at home and has flexibility during that time to get on with his personal interests, that is unlikely to be classed as working time.

Contact

To discuss working time and other employment issues, contact Susan Mayall on 0161 684 6948 or by email or make an enquiry.

 Source: Ville de Nivelles -v- Matzak

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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