When Does ‘Stand-By’ Time at Home Count as ‘Working Time’?

Friday 2nd March 2018

In Ville de Nivelles v Matzak the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has considered the circumstances in which time a worker spends on ‘stand-by duty’ at home constitutes ‘working time’.

Mr Matzak is a firefighter in Belgium.  His working pattern requires him to spend time on stand-by duty at home for certain specified periods, during which he must remain contactable and if necessary be able to report to his fire station within 8 minutes.  Mr Matzak brought a number of claims against his employer, including that he should be paid for the time he spends on stand-by duty.  The Higher Labour Court in Brussels referred a number of preliminary issues to the ECJ, including whether the European Working Time Directive prevented time spent on stand-by duty from counting as ‘working time’.

The ECJ held that in circumstances where a worker is required to be permanently accessible but not physically at his/her place of work, whether such time constitutes ‘working time’ depends on the extent of the temporal and geographical constraints under which the worker has been placed by his employer.  The ECJ found that the fact that Mr Matzak not only had to be accessible but had to be able to report to work within 8 minutes when on stand-by duty, meant that he had limited opportunities to pursue personal and social interests and therefore such time must count as ‘working time’.

Comment:      This judgment is useful for employers who utilise working practices requiring workers to be on stand-by, in that it provides guidance on what counts as working time for the purposes of ensuring workers are receiving sufficient rest breaks and for calculating whether the maximum working week has been reached.