On May 14th the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that EU member states must require from all EU companies to set up a system allowing them to record the daily working time of their employees.

EU member states are obliged to make such systems mandatory in order to enforce legal limits on working hours and ensure labor laws are being complied with. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit in Spain against Deutsche Bank.

Under European legislation and the Charter on Fundamental Rights, every worker is entitled to work only a limited number of hours and to have daily and weekly rest periods. Member states must ensure that workers actually benefit from these rights, by setting up »an objective, reliable and accessible system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured,” said the ECJ in the statement.

“In the absence of a system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured, it is not possible to determine, objectively and reliably, either the number of hours worked and when that work was done, or the number of hours of overtime worked, which makes it excessively difficult, if not impossible in practice, for workers to ensure that their rights are complied with”

It added that member states were responsible for implementing the EU’s working time directive, while each country is free to define how to implement such a system.

When it comes to recording working hours, obligations vary from country to country. For example, UK employers are obliged to keep adequate records for two years to demonstrate that workers are not working more than 48 hours a week and that the laws concerning night work are complied with. In the Netherlands employers must also keep a proper record of the hours worked. The Labour Inspectorate must be able to gather from the records whether the Working Hours Act is complied with.

Recording hours in a flexible work environment?

As we know, in modern business environments working hours are far from being clearly defined. The court ruling could have a great impact on this definition. But they have however not yet specified whether, for example, quickly replying to a work related e-mail from home should be recorded as work time as well. Details will still need to be discussed.

A German confederation of employers found the idea of returning to workers punching in and punching out on arrival and departure impractical given modern working practices, smartphone use, and the rising trend of working from home. But impracticality alone shouldn’t stand in the way of properly applying legal work time limits. Without such measures it is “excessively difficult, if not impossible in practice, for workers to ensure that their rights are complied with.” Workers must be regarded as the weaker party in the employment relationship. It is necessary to prevent the employers from being in a position to restrict their rights.

»The court puts a stop to flat-rate work, and rightly so,” commented Annelie Buntenbach, board member of the German Trade Union Confederation DGB. “Flexibility will not suffer, on the contrary: Instead of with a punch clock, working hours can today be documented with smartphones and apps, after all.”

She is absolutely correct. Just as working environments have transformed immensely, so has the recording of working hours and a classic punch clock will definitely not make a great comeback because of this ruling.

But with smart online tools like All Hours, which is our time and attendance solution, there is absolutely no good reason for employers to avoid keeping records of working hours, vacation days and breaks. All Hours even allows employers to set different flexible, full-time or part-time schedules for their employees, and of course – with the mobile application remote employees can seamlessly enter their work hours from anywhere.

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