August 27, 2014

New ‘On-Call’ hours ruling to affect all UK employers

A landmark employment ruling, in which two on-call paramedics won a case against the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), will now apply to all employers in the UK.

Ambulance paramedics Paul Truslove and Ellouise Wood were attempting to get compensation from the Scottish Ambulance Service over a breach of their rest entitlements under the 1998 Working Time Regulations, having accumulated 97 and 48 consecutive working hours respectively.

Before this case, there were two European cases involving doctors which set out the European principals and a UK case which sought to apply those European principles into UK law.

The first European case involved doctors who were required to be working at primary healthcare centers.  The second European case involved Doctors who were physically required to be at a hospital, but were permitted to take rest (including sleeping on site) and were liable to be called to perform their health care duties at any time.

In both of the European cases, the doctors were found to be working at all times.  However, in the first case an alternative factual situation was explored which determined on those alternative facts, the doctors were only working when they were providing their primary care services.

The UK case, which followed the two European doctors’ cases , identified (as Europe had) that UK legislation can’t treat periods where a person must be present and remain available at the place determined by the employer to perform their duties, as rest periods.

What happened in the case?

The Scottish Ambulance Service case involved the following facts:

  • Mr Truslove was assigned to carry out relief work at Dufftown Abulance Station on 12,13,14 & 15 October 2009 working 8am to 6pm and thereafter being “on call” from 6pm to 8am
  • Mrs Wood worked at a different station but around a broadly similar work pattern
  • They had to seek to achieve mobilisation within three minutes
  • Staff, when “on call”, are not permitted to take the ambulance outwith a three-mile radius of the ambulance station concerned, without first seeking and getting approval from ambulance control
  • There was morphine, a controlled drug inside the ambulance
  • The three-minute period is a target.  There has been no instance where the target has been missed by on-call staff when there has been a dismissal or discipline for such a missed target
  • The response time of each paramedic is monitored.  The monitoring period begins with the time of the summoning call from control to the time when the paramedic responds by pressing the appropriate touchscreen within the ambulance to show that the ambulance is on its way

The Scottish Ambulance Service case found that the time spent by two paramedics when they were required to be away from home and required to be at a particular location in a particular place, namely within three miles of the ambulance station, there to respond, if not immediately, at least within a target time of three minutes and do all they could to achieve that time, could not be said to be on their own time.  They were working and not at rest.

The Scottish Ambulance Service judgement is a development of the European case law around whether “on call” is working time and calls for all employers who operate an “on call” regime to seek specialist Employment Law advice on the matter, noting the Appeal Judge expressly warned against generalising one particular employers’ working regime to another.

Moorepay can assist employers in providing objective opinion on this very important matter to businesses of all shapes and sizes – contact us for more information.

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About the author

Andrew Weir

Andrew has a wealth of experience in advising and representing clients of all shapes and sizes in a range of Employment Law topics from unfair dismissal through to all forms of discrimination and the complexities of TUPE. Andrew heads up our Advice Line and Advocacy teams who provide Employment Law advice to our clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and support our clients in presenting defences at Employment Tribunals throughout the UK & Ireland.