On-call duty at the workplace is automatically working hours
The ‘sleeping standby duty’, whereby a worker is physically present at the workplace throughout the night, does in principle count as working hours, whether the employee is actually performing work or not. It is essential that the employer can call the employees to work at any time and that they, in turn, are prepared to respond.
These include, for example, hospital staff and firefighters. There are, however, exceptions to this rule in certain sectors.
But what if your employee merely needs to be ‘reachable’?
In the past, the Court of Justice has regularly ruled that when the worker was not required to be physically present, but for example only on call outside the workplace, on-call duty could not be regarded as working hours.
The Court of Justice subsequently qualified this in a precedent judgement and ruled that the time during which an employee was actually forced to stay at home in order to answer calls immediately and then to be present at the workplace within a very short time (e.g. around 8 minutes) should in principle be regarded as working time.
In particular, the degree of freedom the employee had or did not have to enjoy their ‘free time’ during that period must be taken into account.
And what if your employee is restricted by the geographical characteristics of the workplace?
The Court of Justice was now confronted with such a case.
For example, a Slovenian technician must be contactable by telephone and arrive at their workplace within the hour if called upon to do so; they are not obliged to stay at their workplace, but are ‘forced’ to do so in an adjacent house, since the location makes it impossible (or very difficult) for them to return home every day; and this place offers ‘few’ or no opportunities for leisure activities.
Specifically here, the television broadcasting station was in the Slovenian mountains, far from civilisation and solely connected by a cable-lift that only was only activated sporadically; the worker had no vehicle of their own for travel; they could not reach their place of residence in a single day, so it was impossible for them to arrive at their workplace within the hour; and they had no choice but to stay in a house provided by the employer.