By Neville Chamunorwa
Earlier in 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg passed judgment on the way in which EU employers need to record the hours worked by their staff. The following article dissects what exactly that ruling means and how will it affect firms in the construction industry.
What is the Law?
The European Court of Justice recently passed a ruling that requires companies in the European Union to track the number of hours their employees work each day. This decision came about due to a Spanish trade union – Federación de Servicios de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) – taking Deutsche Bank SAE to court over the matter.
The CCOO argued in the Spanish National High Court that Deutsche Bank was obliged to set up a system to record time worked by its employees. This obligation, the CCOO stated, was outlined in two places:
• Under Spanish national law; and
• Under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Working Time Directive (the Working Times Directive places limits on the maximum number of hours per week employees can work).
Deutsche Bank disputed this on the basis that case law from the Spanish Supreme Court stated companies were only required to record the amount of overtime worked and not regular hours worked. With the Spanish High Court being skeptical about whether this interpretation by the Supreme Court was in compliance with EU law, the case was referred to the European Court of Justice.
The ECJ ruled that without a system to record the number of hours each employee works overall, it is not possible to determine how many are regular hours and how many fall into the overtime category. Additionally, if companies do not record regular hours worked, it is impossible to verify whether they are complying with worker rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Working Times Directive.
The ECJ, therefore, concluded that companies must set up systems to accurately record all hours worked by its employees.
What Does This Mean For Construction Firms?
What this will look like practically depends on where a company is based. The ECJ has said that the form these systems take and how they are to be implemented is for each EU country to decide. It will also depend very much on existing time-recording laws in each individual member state. The only certainty is that sooner or later all construction firms based in European Union countries will have to bring in time-tracking measures for its workers.
Construction is a notoriously inconsistent industry when it comes to time and attendance. Workers tend to start and finish at unorthodox times, working changeable shift patterns and days. The nature of the job might seem as though clocking-off at a specific time is neither feasible nor recommendable. While some workers may be employed directly by the firm, there is also likely to be a significant number of contractors and subcontractors involved with a project.
Construction workers are also less likely to consistently be based in one location. Approvals, delays, revisions, and on-site work can make it a real challenge for employers to know for sure exactly how many hours an employee has worked. This can make compulsory time-tracking in the construction industry seem like an impossible task – but it needn’t be the case.
What Is The Solution?
One of the main objections to the ECJ’s ruling is that it is impractical in this day and age to implement a mandatory time-tracking system. The Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) criticized the decision as being behind the times. You cannot, they argued, tackle the demands of modern-day working arrangements with a punch clock. What about home offices and remote working, for example? Or the unpredictability of on-site hours on-site as previously mentioned?
In reality, however, advances in technology mean that tracking an employee’s working hours is now a simple matter – whether they’re based permanently in an office or on the move. Time-tracking and attendance apps can be downloaded onto desktops, laptops, smartphones or tablets. This enables workers to clock in and out regardless of location or time. The best systems utilize GPS technology to ensure workers are only checking-in when they’re actually on-sit – something that is invaluable to construction companies.
Time-tracking apps are often available as integrations for other software too – for example, MS Teams (internal link to MS Teams article) or Slack (internal link to Slack article). For firms already using these communications tools, integrating a time-tracking function will likely be a simple process.
Could Mandatory Time-Tracking Benefit Construction Firms?
While on the surface the ECJ’s ruling might seem inconvenient and cumbersome, it is more likely than not to deliver useful benefits for construction firms. Those not yet using time-tracking and attendance software will be understandably wary of implementing it. However, there are far more advantages to using this type of technology than simply complying with EU regulations. In fact, many construction firms already use time-tracking apps without being obliged to.
The advantages of utilizing this technology include:
• Accurate time and attendance tracking: This can be extremely useful for the firm itself outside of any laws or regulations. It can help cut down on stolen time and buddy punching – where one worker clocks in for another who is not present. This saves companies a lot of money in the long run.
• Payroll: It makes payroll processing a simple task. Instead of having to deal with a multitude of timesheets that need to be checked and verified, time and attendance tracking apps do most of the legwork in advance.
• Productivity: Time tracking software significantly increases productivity levels. With greater insight into how time is being spent, companies can adjust their approach and strategy to maximize impact.
The Future Of Time-Tracking In Construction
Construction firms, along with all other employers in the EU will be obligated to get on board with employee time-tracking in the not-so-distant future. Resisting the ruling is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth. Embracing it instead will enable businesses to quickly reap the extensive benefits that this progressive technology brings and wish they had signed up a lot sooner.