It comes as no surprise, given the Directive was first introduced into GB law back in 2003. Since then there has been significant change in working patterns, primarily as a result of the advances in technology. This consultation has been established to look at whether specific rules should be introduced to regulate the likes of teleworking, ‘zero-hour’ contracts and flexitime, among other things.
The current Working Time Directive, which applies to all employed workers was set up to protect them from health and safety risks associated with excessive and inappropriate hours. Its current requirements include a 48 hours limit on the average working week and the right of employees to take daily and weekly rest breaks, with extra protections for night workers. However in the UK, the 1998 Working Time Regulations allow for workers to waiver the restrictions of the Working Time Directive, and by confirming in writing they can work significantly more.
The notable changes in working patterns as a result of technology have meant that a typical 9 to 5 working day is a thing of the past. More people are ‘teleworking’ and advances in mobile technology have resulted in people constantly engaging with their working environment, even if it’s just to check and to respond to their emails.
A recent study carried out by psychologists from the University of Surrey, looked at the behaviour of some 50,000 employees to understand the consequences of having constant access to work. It found that mobile phones and laptops increasingly ‘blurred’ the boundaries between work and home life and those who were likely to ‘login’ and continue to engage with work were more likely to suffer problems with their health and social lives. This in itself poses a new set of health and safety risks, so it makes sense for the consultation by the European Commission to take place.
It should be standard fare to address the Working Time Directive with all new employees when joining an organisation, with hours worked set out within the employment contract. It will be the responsibility of the employer to enforce their company policy on the subject, even if this is to include the option for employees to waiver the Directive.
HR departments can establish best-practice processes and workflows that will ensure the effective undertaking of tasks relating to Working Time Regulations or the Working Time Directive, to the right people at the right time going forward, whether this be the HR Team, Health and Safety Advisor, line managers or employees. The reduced administrative burden that comes from this slicker way of working translates into heightened efficiencies, time savings that allow individuals to concentrate upon the more value-adding elements of their job, and cost benefits.
We can’t predict the outcome of the consultation on the Working Time Directive, but you can be assured that we will keep a close eye on any changes that will impact on the UK workforce.
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