Effective working time: what does the law say?

Effective working time measures the period in which an employee is committed to assigned responsibilities. Read more!

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Did you know that the hours you actually spend doing productive work tasks have a name? It is a concept called effective work time and it precisely measures the period of time in which an employee is committed to assigned responsibilities.  

In fact, in many workplaces this concept is used to calculate employee productivity and efficiency, as well as to determine compensation and other job benefits. In this article, we discuss the legal regulations on effective working time and other associated issues. Do you want to know more? Keep reading! 

Effective working time jurisprudence 

As we explained at the beginning, effective working time is a labor concept that refers to the period in which an employee is performing their assigned tasks. According to Directive 2003/88/EC, this is any period during which the worker remains at work, at the disposal of the employer and in the exercise of his activity or his functions.  

Precisely, this directive establishes that all workers must have adequate rest periods, and that the concept of rest must be expressed in units of time, that is, days, hours or fractions of these. 

For its part, Royal Legislative Decree 2/2015 establishes that activities and training courses for employees are considered effective working time. Likewise, it explains that the working day cannot exceed 40 hours per week and the daily working day cannot exceed 9 hours, although this may vary if so established in the collective agreement. 

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Spain has confirmed that breakfast periods and the 15 minutes of courtesy after the start time of the working day must be considered effective working time. 

Are travel included in effective work time? 

In the work context, commuting refers to the movements that a worker makes to fulfill his or her job responsibilities. Considering this, travel to and from the workplace is not considered effective time, unless it is an integral part of the employee’s job responsibilities.

However, in certain jobs, especially those that require continuous coverage, such as medical care, security or shift production, the time necessary for handovers between workers may be part of actual working time. For example, if an employee must wait for his/her release to arrive before he/she can leave the workplace, it could be considered as such, since the employee is available and ready to perform work duties during that period. 

About on-call periods and working time 

An on-call period involves an employee being available to work, respond to calls or respond to emergencies for a certain period of time, outside of their regular work hours. During this time, the employee may be in the office, at home, or another designated location, but must be ready to respond quickly if a situation arises that requires their attention. 

So, are on-call periods considered actual working time? The answer is that it depends. They can be considered as such if the employee is present at his workplace (other than his home) and available to his employer. However, if the worker is free to manage his or her own time during these periods and is not performing his or her job duties, these on-call periods are not necessarily counted as effective working time. 

In Spain, the regulation of on-call periods is complex. For example, according to a Supreme Court ruling, non-face-to-face shifts, which involve telephone location, should not automatically be considered effective working time. This is because workers have the autonomy to determine their location and manage their personal, family and social time, as long as they maintain telephone availability and the ability to go to the workplace in specific cases, without a predefined minimum time for it. 

Elements to take into account when calculating effective working time 

Finally, we share with you some elements that you should take into account when calculating the effective work time. Take note! 

  • Hours worked: This is the actual time spent performing specific work tasks. Includes time spent on work-related activities, such as meetings, projects, or customer service. 
  • Pauses and breaks: authorized breaks and breaks during the work day must be taken into account. These interruptions may include lunch breaks, short coffee breaks, or other permitted short breaks. 
  • On-call time: If the job involves on-call periods, it is important to determine how this time is accounted for.  
  • Work Travel: If an employee needs to travel as part of their job responsibilities, it is important to consider whether the travel time is counted as actual work time. This can vary depending on whether the trip is an integral part of work or simply to get to the workplace. 
  • Training: Time spent on training and activities related to professional development is generally considered effective work time, as long as it is directly related to the employee’s job responsibilities. 
  • Waiting periods: If an employee must wait during their workday without being able to perform other productive tasks, this time could be considered effective working time, depending on the circumstances and applicable work regulations. 
  • Labor regulations: It is essential to know and comply with local labor laws and regulations, as these may establish specific standards for how effective work time should be calculated and compensated. 

Do you want to know more about other laws that impact the world of work, such as teleworking or the increase in the minimum wage? Stay reading the Educa.Pro blog with us! 

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