As a small business owner, it can be tricky keeping up to date with different employment laws. Sometimes it seems as if the rules are constantly changing, and this can cause a lot of worries for employers who don’t want to risk a tribunal claim.
The laws around travelling for work, and if this counts as ‘working time’, can seem complicated. We’ve put together this article in order to answer any questions you have and restore your confidence that you’re doing things right.
Is travel time considered work time?
To understand the laws around when ‘travel time’ counts as working time, there are two key rulings you need to know about.
1. Working Time Regulations 1998
Does commuting time count as working time? Answer: No.
This UK law (not including Northern Ireland) states that time spent commuting to and from the workplace does not count as part of the working day. This is because employees are not at the employer’s disposal when commuting, and don’t have to carry out any duties while doing so.
2. European Court of Justice ruling 2015
Should travel time for mobile workers be counted as working time? Answer: Yes.
The outcome of this ruling was that any workers without a fixed place of work, who travel between clients and appointments from their home, should have that travel counted as part of their working time.
The reason for the ruling is that these types of workers are having to follow a set schedule and are at the disposal of their employers, carrying out their duties on behalf of the business they work for. They have no control over where they travel to and are not able to spend their time freely.
Therefore, the court ruled that their travel time needed to count as working time so that they would be entitled to the legal amount of rest periods within their full work day.
How to know if the travel time laws affect your business
Whether these rulings affect your business will depend on the nature of how your employees work and how much control they have over their work days. Generally speaking, if your employee has to follow a tight schedule of appointments set out by you or their line manager, then their travel will probably count as working time.
An individual’s travel is unlikely to count as working time if they:
- have the flexibility to manage their own work schedule
- are self-employed
- are a contractor.
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Travel time for work: Is it paid?
It’s important to remember that although the Working Time Directive states which hours should be counted as working time, it doesn’t have anything to do with paying employees. This means there’s no automatic obligation to pay workers for travel time unless the travel is for business purposes, so it is down to your discretion as an employer.
Be sure to detail your policy in an employee’s contract, stating whether you will pay them for travel time and if so, how much. This will ensure there’s no room for confusion and will save any surprises on pay day.
Travel for business purposes
When employees are required to travel for a business purpose, for example to meet clients or attend a meeting at a different site, this should be counted as working time.
In these situations, it’s advisable to pay employees their normal wage or salary as well as expensing them for their travel. Ensure you have a clear, well thought-out expenses policy to use in each case, so as to avoid breach of contract or unlawful deduction claims. You could also consider offering staff time off in lieu for any business travel outside of their normal working hours.
Things to consider around travelling for work
Employees’ right to breaks
For every 24-hour period, workers are entitled to at least 11 hours of rest. All employees are also entitled to an uninterrupted 20-minute break when they work for more than six hours. If an employee’s working day is extended to include travel time, you may be required to give them more rest breaks.
You will also need to check that the employee’s working hours do not exceed the legal limit of 48 per week. If they do, and the employee doesn’t sign an opt-out agreement, you will need to reduce their hours. In this case you may need to consider hiring more employees, which will result in extra costs.
The European Court of Justice stated that employers can monitor employee travel times to make sure they are being properly recorded. To do so, you must ensure the employees are aware that this is happening and that you are being compliant with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations).
You can also require your employees to take the most direct routes possible between locations, in order to reduce time worked.
It’s essential to keep employment contracts under review for all of your staff to ensure they’re up to date and legally sound. The contract should cover:
- hours worked
- opt-out clauses
- how work is scheduled and by whom
- place(s) of work
It might be worth having a look at your mobile workers’ schedules and thinking of ways that they could be made more efficient. For example, could the first and last appointments of their working day be chosen for their proximity to the employee’s house? This would reduce travelling time and therefore cut down the number of hours the individual has to work.
What about Brexit?
Since the EU Working Time Directive has now been embedded in UK law, in theory it shouldn’t be immediately affected by Brexit. However, it’s not possible to predict exactly what will happen, so for the meantime, the above rulings still stand, but we’ll be sure to update you if anything changes.
Get HR Support
If you’re unsure about when travel time constitutes working time for your employees, our HR consultants can help.
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