Time spent by employees “on call” to potentially attract pay

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled yesterday that periods on call must be considered to be working time and be paid accordingly.

Rudy Matzak, a Belgian volunteer firefighter, began serving in 1981.  Mr Matzak was permitted to stay at home when he was on call, but had to be ready for service with only eight minutes’ notice.

The case was heard before the Belgian labour courts in 2009, and was referred to the ECJ in 2015. The ECJ ruled that the period of notice when he was on call was so short it constrained Mr Matzak’s ability “to devote himself to his personal and social interests”.  Given he was not only required to be contactable, but had to get to the scene of the fire, he was needed to be “physically present” and his ability to do anything else was constrained.  This was held to differ from employees who were essentially on “stand by” and needed only to be contactable. 

The ruling could have implications for employers within the EU with groups of workers who spend unpaid time on standby ready to work.  Jonathan Holden at Forbes Solicitors advised “Employers asking employees to remain ‘on call’ during unpaid periods, requiring them to be available for work within timescales that could physically restrict the employee’s use of their personal time should consider the possibility that these periods of time should be paid working time.  Employers should also consider whether this will affect the employee’s entitlement to receive the National Living Wage; and should consider revisiting their contracts of employment to provide certainty”.

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