Karo Kilfeather | 07.08.16
Summary >

The recent referendum in the UK regarding membership of the European Union and the subsequent “Brexit” vote has led to unprecedented volatility in the market, resignations of members of parliament and uncertainty about what this may mean in the months ahead. While this uncertainty has been a big focus around the globe, the debate continues about whether the referendum will even lead to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union being triggered, and so any potential impact is currently unknown.

With the UK, as a whole, is in such limbo, it’s no surprise that the impact on the split from the EU and its Court of Justice, will have ramifications for the future of field service management in the UK and Europe. There are multiple judgments from the European Court of Justice that, as part of the EU’s “Working Time Directive,” are in progress and will need to be considered as the UK’s future in Europe is clarified.

Last year we reported on one such ruling regarding the definition of travel time that now, given Brexit, may or may not play a role in the UK’s employment law going forward:

In September 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that travel time by an employee with no fixed or habitual place of work between their homes and their first and last customer appointments in the day constitute working time. This decision has significant impact on ensuring employee scheduling complies with labor requirements, especially ensuring that workers are given the required amount of rest time between work shifts.

What caused this case?

In 2011, a Spanish security company closed its provincial offices. The result was that field technicians responsible for installing and repairing security systems throughout the country no longer go into the office. Instead, they receive their daily list of appointments the night before and the next day go directly to their appointments. In some cases, field technicians were sent to locations more than 100 kilometers away. Before the office closure, field technician working hours started once they arrived at the office and stopped upon returning the company vehicle. The lack of an office caused major problems figuring out payroll and tracking other expenses.

A Spanish court asked the ECJ to rule whether travel time at the start and end of the work day is considered working time under the EU's "Work Time Directive." The ECJ decided that the employees were at "the disposal" of their employers when driving to the office or the first appointment and acting on their instructions. In addition, the court noted that the fact that travel time now started and ended at the employee's home was a direct consequence of the company's decision to close the regional offices. The decision stated that requiring employees "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.”

Fallout from the case

The ruling regarding travel to and from the office at the beginning and end of the day has fundamentally changed the definition of work hours, especially in the field service industry. However, it should be noted that the changes are limited to the EU's "Work Time Directive." The directive limits the definition to:

  • maximum number of work hours per week

  • mandatory rest periods within a single shift and between shifts

  • special rules that apply to night time work or specific industry sectors

Now that the ECJ has expanded what qualifies as "work time”—at least regarding workers with no fixed workplace—companies throughout the EU have to reassess how they're scheduling employees. For example, before the ruling, a field technician could average five customers a day. That may drop to four now that the start and end of day travel time is included in their eight-hour day—causing a potential 20 percent drop in productivity with the stroke of a court's pen.

What role can workforce management software play?

A company without a intuitive mobile workforce management tool to help them optimize their workforce will have to hire more workers to maintain productivity and minimize risk—that's an expensive option. Workforce management software can be used so companies can incorporate the new rulings into the work flow and become agile, as they adjust to the growing and evolving patchwork of legal and business requirements governing how they schedule employees.

Shift work has its own host of scheduling quirks and needs, but the explosion of the mobile workforce has created multiple new layers of scheduling complexity. There are also new kinds of mobile workers. As an increasing number of companies are eliminating offices entirely, the number of remote workers is growing.

High profile companies, like Google and Yahoo, provide employees transportation shuttles to their offices. How long will be it be until a court decides that the time spent on these wifi-enabled shuttles that allow employees to work during their commute must also be included in work hour calculations?

Companies must constantly reevaluate whether their current policies comply with new legal and business requirements. Scheduling is now far too intricate to leave to human planning. Having a system in place that provides artificial intelligence and adds visibility into your workforce minimizes the risk of noncompliance. The ability to track remote workers' locations and movements—and forecast staff workloads to coincide with daily commutes and other necessary travel—can optimize labor costs without experiencing a decline in customer service levels.

As the ramifications of Brexit become clearer, these and similar directives will require flexible workforce management capabilities to deliver the operational visibility, adhere to the appropriate legislative requirements, and give companies the level of business control necessary. Let's see what happens next.