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EU verdict forces rethink on field staff travel and pay

Date: 21 September 2015   |   Author: Tristan Young

A new European Union ruling looks set to add "significant costs" to employers and fleets with field workers who are based from home.

Businesses are being urged to check they have the right procedures in place for field workers following
the decree that working time starts from the moment employees leave their homes.

The European Court of Justice, the EU's highest court, judged that: "The journeys made by workers without a fixed or habitual place of work between their homes and the first and last customer of the day constitute working time.

"Excluding those journeys from working time would be  contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by EU law."

Failure to comply with the ruling could mean businesses end up paying workers less than the minimum wage, opening themselves up to prosecution.

Lloyd Clarke, head of employment law at solicitors Attwells, said: "This is likely to have a significant impact on employers - with commentators suggesting that businesses have little choice but to comply with the new ruling. The potential ramifications of this decision could be immense, adding significant costs and interfering with long-established business practices.

"Companies that already employ mobile workers who spend a lot of time travelling between appointments and/or have no fixed place of work will need to address the ramifications of this ruling quickly.

"What we're saying to employers is that they should make sure an employee's first and last appointment are closer to their homes and they must also take a wider look at
their procedures.

The ruling came about because of a legal case involving Spanish company Tyco, which installs security systems and employs home-based field engineers.

"Hopefully, this case will help clarify the situation, but it will need to be tested in the UK," said Clarke, who added that one possible test case could be an employment tribunal between MiHomecare, the UK's fourth-largest carer, employing more than 4000 people, and a former member of staff.

According to Clarke, many of the firm's employees are paid less than the national minimum wage due to it not paying for the time it takes for staff to travel to their clients.

The ex-employee claims she often worked 12-hour days while only being paid for seven, which meant she was paid just £4.48 per hour (compared with the contractual rate of £7.58 per hour), a sum considerably lower than the national minimum wage, which is due to rise by 20p to £6.70 per hour from
1 October.

Clarke added that he expected that companies would only be exposed to two years of back pay should a claim be successful. This is because he thought any ruling would follow that set out by recent case law on overtime and bonuses in holiday pay.