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Firefighter’s breaks on standby may be classed as “working time” under the WTD

A firefighter has challenged his employer’s decision to make his daily rest breaks unpaid, unless there was an emergency call-out. During the firefighter’s rest breaks, he was allowed to go to a canteen which was around 200 metres away from his workstation, but was continually on “standby” during the entirety of his break and was expected to return to his duties on two minutes’ notice in the event of an emergency. All rest breaks were unpaid and were only included in the calculation of the firefighter’s working time if they were interrupted by a call-out. The firefighter challenged this method of calculating his remuneration.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) held the breaks should be classed as “working time” under the Working Time Directive, because the potential interruption on two minutes’ notice significantly affected the firefighter’s ability to freely manage his own time during the break as he was on “permanent alert”. The half-hour periods were not genuine rest breaks, and it was immaterial that the firefighter may not have carried out any actual activity for the employer during the break.

The national court must now decide if the firefighter’s breaks are to be classed as working time, by analysing any limitations the firefighter was faced with during their time on standby.