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29 October 2003
The ECJ held that all on-call duty performed by a doctor required to be present in a hospital constitutes 'working time' for the purposes of the Working Time Directive. This will be the case even where the doctor sleeps at the hospital when his services are not required, and periods of sleep or inactivity do not amount to rest periods. The ECJ noted that, in contrast to a doctor on standby, a doctor who is required to keep himself available at a place determined by his employer during on-call duty is subject to
"appreciably greater constraints, since he has to remain apart from his family and social environment and has less freedom to manage the time during which his professional services are not required. Under those conditions an employee available at the place determined by the employer cannot be regarded as being at rest during the periods of his on-call duty when he is not actually carrying on any professional activity."
This follows, but develops, a 2000 ECJ ruling concerning the on-call duties of doctors in Spain.
While the case concerned German law and the health sector, it is of wider significance
as an interpretation of the Working Time Directive. It remains to be seen how
the ECJ ruling is applied elsewhere in Europe. It is, however, of potentially
broad application. If 'working time' is any period where the employee is required
to be at a place determined by the employer to be available for duties, this
could cover any situation where he or she is at his or her employer's disposal
and away from home - for example a business trip.
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