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Working Time, meetings and the eleven hour break

View profile for Phil Cookson
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A recent decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal has widened the scope of what activities will be classed as ‘working time’ in relation to the Working Time Directive, particularly in relation to those employees who participate in trade union meetings or who undertake a health and safety role.

Under the Working Time Regulations, a worker is entitled to a rest period of 11 consecutive hours in each 24 hour period he works for this employer.  The case, Edwards V Encirc Ltd involved two employees – one was a trade union representative and the other a health and safety representative.  Because they attended meetings which ran on in to the afternoon, they sometimes did not have time to take an 11 hour break before their next night shift started.  The employer tried to state that their time in union or health and safety meetings was not counted as far as the Regulations were concerned.

The EAT however disagreed and said that the meeting time is included as it satisfied the three test elements of the definition of ‘Working Time’ i.e the worker must be (i) working (ii) at the employer's disposal and (iii) carrying out his activities or duties.  They decided this was the case, taking the wider approach in that the meetings were of benefit to the employer as the employer was fully aware they were taking place.

In terms of how this impacts on employers, they should be particularly aware of employees who have trade union or health and safety responsibilities and how their meetings could affect their rights under the Working Time Regulations.  This is particularly important for employers who operate a shift working system, where the time between an afternoon meeting finishing and the start of the night shift may not be enough to satisfy the regulations