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What the ECJ ruling means for employees
The European Court of Justice has ruled: Working time must be fully recorded to protect workers. What the ruling means and what its consequences are.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg has obliged employers in the EU to systematically and completely record the working time of their employees (Case C-55/18). What is behind the ECJ ruling and what are the possible consequences of the ruling for the European labour market?
What exactly did the ECJ decide?
The judges in Luxembourg ruled in accordance with the EU Working Time Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Accordingly, the daily working time must be fully recorded. This is the only way to check whether permissible working hours are exceeded, the ruling states. It calls on the EU member states to oblige companies to have an objective, reliable and accessible time recording system. It is up to them how the individual countries organise this. It is permissible to deal with the special features of a field of activity and "peculiarities of certain companies". For example, the size of a company can be taken into account when deciding on a collection system.
What is this supposed to achieve?
According to the judges of the European Court of Justice, comprehensive time recording strengthens the rights of employees. With a system for recording working time, the number of hours worked, their distribution over time and also the number of overtime hours can be determined objectively and reliably. Because employees in an employment relationship are in a weaker position, it is "extremely difficult or even practically impossible for employees without a time recording instrument to enforce their rights", the Court said. Time recording would make it easier for workers to prove that their rights were being violated.
How do trade unions react?
The German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) welcomed the ECJ decision: "The court is putting a stop to flat-rate work - that's right. From the point of view of the Federation of Trade Unions, the rights of employees in Germany are often restricted if there is no means of recording time. The number of unpaid overtime hours is unacceptably high and amounts to "theft of wages and time". The IG Metall also shares the judges' assessment: "Especially in the digital working world it is important that working hours are not extended through the back door", said a union board member. If time is recorded, employees could organise working hours and private life more according to their individual needs.
And the employers?
Less pleased: The Federal Association of German Employers' Associations (BDA) said that the decision of the European Court of Justice seemed to be out of date: "We employers are against the general reintroduction of the time clock in the 21st century. One cannot react to the requirements of the working world 4.0 with a working time registration 1.0". Also in the opinion of the employers' association Gesamtmetall, the obligation to record working time makes it difficult to be flexible: "With today's ruling and the resulting recording obligation, for example, trust-based working time is practically dead," was the opinion of the association's management. In the case of so-called trust-based working hours, the focus is on meeting targets, not on the employees' attendance. However, the Nuremberg Institute for Employment Research countered that trust-based working time does not mean that working time in companies is not recorded. It was merely not controlled. Since overtime was recorded anyway, it was "an extremely small leap" to record regular working hours.
What difficulties are threatening to arise during implementation? With Holdeed, certainly none at all!
The ECJ ruling provides for working time to be recorded in full. In some professions, however, it is not so easy to clearly delimit what is considered work: for example, when does working time begin for a scientist who thinks about a problem for weeks and months? How can time spent maintaining professional contacts and networks be evaluated? The DGB suggests this definition: "All I do to satisfy the business interests of my employer is work and to capture it as such". A uniform, legally binding delimitation, however, does not yet exist.
And also the handling of flexible working hours could represent a hurdle: At least you don't have access to the classic time clock in your home office. The Federal Association of German Startups warned: "The flexibility that employees themselves demand is restricted by such requirements". For companies, the time recording requirement also represents an additional bureaucratic burden.