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Commuters travel on a metro line at the Washington metro area
Reuters/ Carlos Barria
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GETTING THERE

A court has ruled that time spent traveling to and from work is “work”

Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

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Sweaty trips on overstuffed trains and buses, rush-hour traffic jams… for many workers, the commute can be the most stressful part of a working day.

Indeed, a European court has ruled that that time spent traveling to and from work should count as actual work, with companies paying employees for their time accordingly. The judgment applies to workers without a fixed office, such as many electricians, care workers, and sale reps, and will affect millions of public and private sector employees across the European Union.

The European Court of Justice said its ruling was made to uphold the health and safety of workers, which is protected by the EU’s working time directive. This legislation mandates that no employee should be forced to work more than 48 hours per week.

The ruling stems from a legal case in Spain involving Tyco, a company that installs security systems. Tyco shut down its regional offices in 2011, and so employees had to travel from home to work appointments.

“The fact that the workers begin and finish the journeys at their homes stems directly from the decision of their employer to abolish the regional offices and not from the desire of the workers themselves,” said the court (pdf).

“Requiring them to bear the burden of their employer’s choice would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by the directive, which includes the necessity of guaranteeing workers a minimum rest period.”

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