A European view on commute time

By Pai Yi-hsuan 白逸軒  / 

Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 8

Should the time spent traveling to and from work be considered work time?

The question became a subject of debate in Spain in 2011. A Spanish security company called Tyco, which installs and maintains security systems, closed its regional offices across the nation that year, leaving its headquarters in Madrid the only office.

This changed the ways its employees worked. Instead of going to the office to clock in first, employees were asked to travel directly to their first customer from their own homes.

The company also redefined working time as the period from the moment the employees met their first customer until the time they left their last customer.

In practice, since Tyco’s customers are located all over Spain, employees spend various amounts of time traveling to meet them. In the most extreme case, one employee traveled for three hours to reach their first appointment.

Employees argued that the time spent traveling to a customer’s home or business should be regarded as work time, but the company disagreed and refused to alter its policy. The debate eventually made its way to the European Court of Justice.

According to the court, when traveling to their first customer of the day, employees were acting on the instructions of their employer, who might change the order of the customers to be visited or cancel or add an appointment. As a result, while traveling to a customer, employees are not able to use their time freely and pursue their own interests — they are at their employer’s disposal.

The court also said that Tyco was responsible for the decision to close its regional offices, which meant employees could not choose to live close to their place of work, and that placing the entire burden resulting from that decision on the employees was not right.

The court therefore ruled that the time employees spent traveling each day between their homes and the premises of their first and last customers as designated by their employer constituted working time.

Although the nature of traveling to work discussed in the lawsuit might be different from that of typical commutes, which have been the focus of discussion about job commutes in Taiwan, it could still be useful to look at the way the European Court of Justice defined work time and where it regards commute time as work time.

Pai Yi-hsuan is a master’s degree student in the political science department at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Tu Yu-an