An 84-hour working week can be lawful

10 February 2016

The Working Time Directive says that workers shouldn’t work more than 48 hours per week, unless they opt out of that limit. Workers are also entitled to certain daily and weekly rest breaks.

Matja Kumba T M'bye and others v Stiftelsen Fossumkollektivet

The Working Time Directive says that workers shouldn’t work more than 48 hours per week, unless they opt out of that limit. Workers are also entitled to certain daily and weekly rest breaks.

This case was about therapists at a treatment centre for young people with drug and alcohol problems. Shift patterns were to change so that workers would work for seven days and then have seven days off. Those who didn’t agree to that were dismissed and offered reengagement on the new terms.

The European Free Trade Association Court held that an 84-hour week can be lawful. There is flexibility in the rules to allow for different working patterns in certain types of jobs. Here, in a cohabitant care arrangement, continuity of care was said to be beneficial to patients. That being so, it might have been impossible for these workers (who had opted out of the 48-hour limit) to be given the rest periods to which they might otherwise be entitled. An 84-hour week was not incompatible with the Directive.

The rules on rest breaks, including compensatory rest periods, can be tricky, so get advice on your particular circumstances to check that your workers are getting their full entitlement, and before implementing any changes.


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