A recent case could have a big impact on employers who employ staff who work “on-call” and on “standby”.  Restaurants, Hotels, Care providers and Hospitals may have to revisit their policies following the case of Maztak v Nivelles Fire Service

Mr Matzak was a volunteer firefighter with the Nivelles Fire Service in Belgium, who was employed to work alongside professional, full-time firefighters to help with operations and standby services, which were arranged by rota at the beginning of each year.

All volunteer firefighters were paid an annual allowance for their standby work.

Under his contract of employment, Mr Matzak and other volunteer firefighters, as well as professional firefighters, were required to adhere to specific residence requirements, including: –

  1. To be domiciled or reside in a place so as not to exceed a maximum of eight minutes to reach the Nivelles fire station when traffic is running normally and complying with the Highway Code;
  2. During periods of standby duty, every member of the volunteer fire service serving at the Nivelles fire station must: –

 

  • Remain at all times within a distance of the fire station such that the period necessary to reach it when traffic is running normally does not exceed a maximum of eight minutes;
  • Be particularly vigilant so as to remain within range of various technical means used to call staff and to leave immediately, by the most appropriate means, when staff on standby duty are called.

Mr Matzak brought judicial proceedings against Nivelles Fire Service in December 2009, after his one-year probation period ended. The details of the proceedings were that his employer had refused to pay for his “stand-by” hours.

He also claimed that his employers had failed to pay acceptable compensation for his services as a volunteer firefighter, and, in particular, that his standby services should be classed as working time.

Although the Nivelles Labour Court upheld Mr Matzak’s case in March 2012, the Nivelles town appealed the ruling at the Brussels Higher Labour Court.

The Higher Labour Court partially upheld the appeal in September 2015, because under Belgium law “volunteers in the public fire services and the rescue zones as provided for in the law […] on civil security and volunteers in operational civil protection units do not fall under the definition of workers”.

After this ruling was made, the court was asked to determine the correct definitions of working time, in order to decide whether or not Mr Matzak’s standby services should be classed as working time or not.

All European countries must follow the Working Time Directive. The Working Time Directive provides minimum health and safety requirements for working time, including daily and weekly rest periods and annual leave.

“Working time” is referred to as “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” is referred to as “any period not classed as working time”.

The court was asked to consider whether or not volunteers should be classed as workers and therefore included in the regulations under the Working Time Directive.

They were also asked to consider whether or not Mr Matzak’s standby work should be considered as working time under the Directive, despite him being at home whilst on-call “given the constraints on the worker at the time preventing him from undertaking other activities”.

The court found that Mr Matzak was indeed a worker, even though he held a voluntary position.

The court also found that if the standby period was excluded from the concept of working time, this would have a serious impact on the objective of ensuring the health and safety of the workers by granting them satisfactory breaks and rest periods.

The ruling will mean that there is more than likely going to be a huge deviation in legislation because staff who work “on-call” and “standby shifts” at home will be counted as “working time”.

This will have wide-ranging implications upon any employers who need their employees to keep to specific criteria regarding their working hours but which restricts their movements during their free time. 

All employers who have staff working on-call need to carefully consider whether or not they need to place significant restrictions on their employees’ activities when they are on-call.

It may mean that employees are working more than 48 hours each week. It could also have pay implications.

If you would like any further information or advice on this matter, please call us on 01634 564 136 or email us at info@orchardemploymentlaw.co.uk

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