There are a number of provisions aimed at protecting the health and safety of workers within the Working Time Regulations 1998. Minimum rest breaks, daily rest periods and weekly rest are obligations that have sometimes been left in the shadow cast by the current controversy surrounding holiday pay and just how it should be calculated.
However, in some types of work, the management of working time can be an even bigger headache than holiday rights. In one recent case* the problems of defining what would amount to ‘working time’ were starkly highlighted when ambulance paramedics questioned the calculation of their working hours when on call to cover night time emergencies at remote ambulance stations. During such periods, the employer didn’t require them to sleep in at the station or to remain at any specific location. They were simply asked to remain in the area as there was a target time of attending a call out of three minutes. This translated to the paramedics being required to stay overnight at a location of their choice that had to be within three miles of the station that they were covering. It also meant that they could not stay at home.
Was the whole period of being on call working time? Or was it just the periods when they were called out?
Whilst an employment Judge initially decided the latter, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has now reversed that decision. The paramedics were not free to do what they wanted so it was not their own time and it could not be considered ‘rest time’.
This outcome shows that ‘working time’ is not confined to circumstances where the worker is required to attend the actual workplace. So time on call would have to be factored in when working out how much rest the worker is going to require. A challenging exercise but spare a thought for those trying to manage someone in a similar role where they have a second job. Hypothetically, let’s imagine that we have taken on a new air ambulance pilot. Let’s call him Bill. He looks perfect for the role but he has a second job. So in managing his working time and our health and safety duties do we have to take account that he will be ‘working’ when on call and not free to do what he wants and when he is free to do what he wants…well he might be working then too! Sounds like that could be a right royal mess.
*Truslove and another v Scottish Ambulance Service 30 July EAT