Vocational training

The ECJ considers that time spent on compulsory vocational training can be working time

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) found that external training required by an employer outside normal working hours can be qualified as ‘working time’ within the meaning of the Working Time Directive. The claimant, an employee, was required to physically attend training at an external location determined by the employer and was subject to the employer’s instructions. The ECJ pointed out that the only possible alternative categorization of the training was as a period of rest, but this would infringe on the claimant’s right to adequate rest.

Facts

This case concerned a referral to the CJEU by the Iaşi Court of Appeal in Romania. The plaintiff in this case worked as a firefighter for the local emergency services. As part of his duties, the claimant was legally required to undergo vocational training. The service provider, at the request of his employer, followed 160 hours of training on the premises of an external training provider during the months of March and April 2017.

He sued for an order that 124 hours of the training be paid to him as overtime because it was done outside of his normal working hours. After his claim was dismissed, he appealed to the Court of Appeal, which referred the matter to the CJEU.

The question raised

The Court of Appeal noted in its referral that it is not for the ECJ to decide on remuneration issues, as this is a matter of national law. However, the outcome of the dispute would be determined by the question of whether the training is classified as working time or rest time.

Article 2(1) of Directive 2003/88/EC (the Working time directive Where JMP) specifies that “working time” means any period during which a worker works, is at the disposal of the employer and carries out his activity or functions, in accordance with national laws and/or practices. ‘Working time’ and ‘rest period’ are mutually exclusive concepts under the WTD, and therefore any time spent in vocational training should be classified as one or the other. The court noted in particular that the training in question took place outside normal working hours, on the premises of the training service provider, outside his place of work, and without the exercise of any of his service functions.

Decision

The CJEU concluded that the time the claimant spent on training was indeed considered working time. The fact that the training requirement stems from national law had no impact here since the claimant was already employed when the need for training arose and the employer was under an obligation to require that the applicant completes the training. The fact that the training took place outside the plaintiff’s normal working hours was also not taken into account because the WTD makes no such distinction.

The CJEU also held that it was irrelevant that the training took place outside the worker’s usual place of work. Rather, what mattered was that the claimant had to be physically present at a location determined by the employer. Nor was it decisive that the activity carried out by the plaintiff was different from his usual professional activity, since he was still subject to the employer’s instructions to undertake the training.

In its decision, the CJEU underlined that the objective of the WTD was to improve the living and working conditions of workers by guaranteeing the right to a minimum period of rest. He noted that the right to adequate rest is a fundamental right set out in the EU Charter. There is no intermediate category between “working time” and “periods of rest” in the DTT, because rest is defined negatively as time that is not working time. Any interpretation that would not count this training as “working time” would allow an employer to impose on the employee training obligations outside of working hours to the detriment of his right to adequate rest.

conclusion

This decision falls after the end of the Brexit “transition period” and is therefore not binding in the United Kingdom. However, UK courts and tribunals can always refer to ECJ decisions if they are relevant to a dispute before them. This decision is therefore still likely to be significant in the UK, as our working time regulations are based on and in many respects closely follow the WTD.

However, in this situation the decision is particularly interesting as it conflicts with the definition of ‘working time’ in the UK Working Time Regulations 1998, which excludes training provided as part of a course by an educational institution or a person whose principal activity is the provision of training, as was the case here. If a similar issue comes before a UK court, it will be interesting to see how the court addresses this conflict. In the meantime, employers may wish to take a cautious approach to mandatory vocational training, to avoid potentially costly disputes over their workers’ pay and rest periods.