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European Court of Justice: EU employers must track working time in detail (dw.com)
62 points by adwn 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

ITT: Office & IT workers who have no clue that this might not be just about them but the millions of factory workers, shop attendants, builders etc that are forced to work overtime without pay. And you better not say anything, because you are very replaceable.

My personal experience? I've had to record my work times accurately for a few years, it was kinda annoying, but also freeing. Wanted to work in the weekend? no problem. Wanted to leave early or sleep in? no problem. Now I 'just kinda have to make sure I work my 40 hours' and always feel pressure to stay 9 till' 5 and do as little as possible outside of that.

It's a common theme here on HN when it comes to worker's rights and unions. Being a one-percenter where companies bend over backwards to cater to you, it's easy to dismiss these things.

Not my experience in Europe though. My last two employers here constantly over promised (e.g.: unlimited vacations/parental leave, flexible hours, work from home, etc) and really really under delivered. I would rather have things set in stone first nowadays b/c the mindset of most managers here are still not ready for those.

Unlimited PTO is more an American thing in my experience. And is never really unlimited as you will be judged when using it. In Europe it's common with 5+ weeks of vacation, which is also often mandatory by law to take.

well, what can I say, this company had a real problem following the union agreements and EU laws: no paid extra hours (on-call), no notice, no paternity leave according to local laws, etc. On the other hand, was really adamant to keep the 9:30 stand-up meeting for the sake of face time.

> Wanted to work in the weekend? no problem.

Except that in many countries in Europe you aren't allowed to work on Sundays, and time tracking will be used to enforce it.

It's actually more liberal than that. You are allowed to work on Sunday, but it's more expensive for your employer as they need to compensate the discomfort. Double pay and triple pay are not uncommon (although taxes will eat most of that). In the end, your employer probably will not let you work Sundays if it isn't worth it (to them).

> Double pay and triple pay are not uncommon (although taxes will eat most of that)

People have the weirdest views on how tax actually works. Taxes will eat the same proportion, or potentially marginally more - but unless a persons marginal rate is suddenly >50% you're obviously wrong.

I would go as far as to suggest this is a non issue in the majority of cases where overtime is paid.

Tax rate for Western EU workers is definitely above 50%, if you look at aggregate national income that finishes in government budgets (about 53%).

In Belgium (where I live), taxation IS progressive (and very high), and it is a step function. You can even end up earning less if you exceeded some limit that causes your tax rate to jump up x%. Anyway, overtime, extra time, Sunday work can typically also be recuperated later (So you don't get paid but you get some time off) which is interesting too. It's not marginal neither. For example, Tax Liberation Day is July 27th in Belgium.

Are you sure? It works the same way as in other EU countries who have stepped progressive taxes.

This means that you pay a% between x and y €, then b% between y and z€ etc. It means you cannot get less because you got to the higher interval.

That's right. You hit different brackets but each only affects income over that brackets minimum. You just progressively pocket less the more you earn which is sort of diminishing the return on your investment in work hours.

Yes, so you cannot end up earning less because of the step. You always earn more, though the "more" is more and more taxed.

I would be glad to be in the highest, most taxed step.

I think an example will clarify what I mean:

Suppose you work a normal hour: you get 1 euro, but taxes eat 50%. you get 0.5 euro.

Now suppose you work an extra hour on Sunday. According to the collective labour agreement, you get 150% so you get 1.5 euro, but your current tax slot was filled and because of the extra hour you fall into a higher rate. The extra income is taxed at a higher rate of 68%. 1.5 * 0.32 = 0.48 < 0.50. So even though you got 150% you earned less.

It does not need to be so complicated, with extra money earned on a Sunday.

Suppose you earn 100€ per month.

Taxes can be flat (say, 10%), in which case no matter how much you earned so far you get 90€

Taxes can be progressive (say, 10% up to 300€, then 20%) and you earn

Jan 90€ (YTD 100€ before taxes)

Feb 90€ (YTD 200€ before taxes)

Mar 90€ (YTD 300€ before taxes <-- this is the top of the 1st level)

Then in April you get 100€ before taxes, which means 400€ YTD. The first 300€ were at 10%, this April 100€ is at 20%. So you get only 80€.

There can be different ways to calculate this, this is just the general idea.

The important point is that you still get more money than you had before. It is not possible to loose money (= have the value decrease) just because you changed the level.

You just get less and less money per month (in steps) as you progress during the year.

I would be delighted to be in the highest step, it means I earn a lot of money.

Finally, the only (extreme) problem would be if you were taxed 100% starting from some amount of accumulated money. It would mean that from that point on you work for free.

Europe is big and countries have different laws. In Germany, the Arbeitszeitgesetz (working time law), §9, explicitly states that employees must not be employed/given work during sun- and holidays. Exceptions obviously apply, but this is the general rule.

You can work Sunday, but weekend work typically needs approval as it is compensated higher.

Not true e.g. in Germany - Sunday work is only allowed in specific exceptional cases. §9 and 10 ArbZG.

> forced to work overtime without pay.

This frequently happens in IT as well, with this actually put inside the contract.

I'm punching in and out every day at work / in the home office. Either on a terminal or in the web browser. Best thing ever, takes 15 seconds a day.

Being called at home (when not working) because of an emergency? At least 2 hours are added to my timesheet, even if I solve the problem in 5 minutes, so I only get called if it's really important. Adds a lot of sanity and stops abuse.

We are very productive because we actually get to relax from work.

Do you get paid per hour or a lump sum each week/month?

Lump sum every month, 38h / week

That's great, but would be a contravention this new law apparently.

The law doesn't want to know how much you bill or how much is allocated, but how much you actually work.

I the context of labour, surely it makes sense, but there, most hours are logged.

Outside of that it gets a little harder.

It's fully on the employer if they log more time than you actually worked, the issue that was addressed with this ruling was people who'd clock out and then continue to work or where there is no clock and people simply write down how long they worked.

The issue the court had was that if you write it down then there is the possibility that you worked overtime but didn't actually write that or your employer changed it. If start and end of work time are accurately tracked then you can sue them for not paying you overtime.

> the issue that was addressed with this ruling was people who'd clock out and then continue to work or where there is no clock and people simply write down how long they worked

No, this ruling cannot prevent this practice at all. How could it, without a government official standing watch?

You rely on employees or former employees raising an issue and investigating. There is little money to be saved by not paying bob for 15 minutes that one time. Companies that abuse this do so pervasively and consistently providing ample evidence of their misdeeds.

Alternatively employees can raise the matter in court where the additional incentive of money paid to settle the claim makes it worthy of a lawyer handling the matter purely based on expectation of obtaining a cut of the money.

It's not uncommon to have random samples taken by officials. They'll just show up, make a list of everyone clocked in and then interview a few (or all) workers. If they find someone who isn't clocked in, that is a big issue for the employer.

Plus, accurate records are a good basis for any lawsuit in case an employee claims they worked unpaid overtime.

How many European countries don't do random control?

I'm not a contractor, I'm actually tracking the time I'm working.

"At least 2 hours are added to my timesheet, even if I solve the problem in 5 minutes,"

You explicitly stated you'd get tracked for 2 hours for 5 minutes of work.

This differential - which you must have brought up for a reason - is specifically not what the law is trying to address.

That differential is also specifically not what the ruling is trying to prevent.

What's off the table with this ruling is that a timesheet does not exist, because "we're all friends here, we trust our employees (to work themselves to exhaustion out of fear)"

You should read up on the ruling. Every country has to implement it's own law. It's allowed to include specific regulations on these corner cases.

(FYI, I'm still tracking the exact time, but the time I have to work gets reduced from 38 to 36 hours)

> A German confederation of employers said that the ruling was tantamount to demanding a return to workers punching in and punching out on arrival and departure, calling this impractical given modern working practices, smartphones, home offices and the like.

Not really in agreement with the ruling but that's a dumb argument. Tons of tech contractors bill by the hour where accurately tracking time is a financial requirement.

True, And those same contractors do not take the hours worked off contract into account which by experience is combined always more than the stated work week hours. It's a cheap way to not deal with overtime.

> And those same contractors do not take the hours worked off contract into account

What do you mean? If I'm working on your project, I'm billing you for my time.

I worry this will have a negative impact on culture in work environments with more of a return to “bums in seats” management rather than outputs focussed management.

That’s a pretty myopic view though many jobs have no objective outputs which makes hours one of the measurable metrics.


It solves nothing, since the crooks will just continue to cook the books. This is already "mandatory" in Czechia and I have yet to hear about anyone being sued for not upholding the Labor Code.

On the other hand, the tech employees will have to take extra care to manage their attendance sheet with arbitrary requirements such as no weekends and/or no late-night work contrary to the actual practice of being on-call as needed with it being already factored into the pay.

Unless there is a significant bounty for employees who report such breaches for their current employer, the only businesses upholding the law are the very same businesses who would have done so nevertheless.

I've got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I hate the added administration of overly detailed time-keeping, on the other hand, it's often too easy to employers to pressure employees to work for more hours than they're actually paid.

The gripping hand, though, is that many employers aren't interested in hours, but in results. If they just pay you for certain results, and getting those results takes too much time, is it because the employer is too demanding? Or is it an employee who is slow to do that kind of work, but still prefer it over other kinds of work? It might also lead employers to pressure employees to work faster within the hours they're supposed to work, and fire those who can't keep up. I don't think it's going to solve the problem of overly demanding employers, though it probably helps in some cases.

Traditionally, what is on the records and what happens in real life are two very different things. In each case I've seen in private companies, public offices, or universities, the timesheets are duly filled with what is expected and then the work and life continue as before.

Interesting how used I got to the compensation model of a lump sum per month (or every 2 weeks) for software engineering jobs.

One of my first programming jobs required time tracking and so there was really no need to work more then 38 hours a week - because working more cost the company extra and always required approval from manager. Weekends and holidays were compensated 2x, during week after 5pm 1.5x I believe.

Maybe a better idea would be to spell out expectations, so there's at least transparency in terms of comp.

I grab emails, take calls and do little things quite often in the evening, impromptu, it's rather difficult to measure all of that in many management functions.

The ruling is strange, because in my opinion part of a modern working environment would be driven by some form of mutual trust. If you put the burden of "proof of accomplishment" on the workers, that may stifle workplace attractiveness and pose a bureaucratic hurdle. Hence cracking down on untracked, yet (or even therefore) quality employment relationships would naturally appear a step in the wrong direction.

I get it, the Spanish workers may not have shared such mutual trust with Deutsche Bank, but I don't get how that has to have consequences for everyone else?

Or am I (and maybe even the reporting journalists) reading this wrong and work contracts may, and from now on have to specify otherwise explicitly, if that's how they do business?

> The ruling is strange, because in my opinion part of a modern working environment would be driven by some form of mutual trust.

That's a nice theory which in most cases is abused by employers left and right. If you really have a mutual beneficial, trustful relationship with your employer this won't change it. If it does, it was all a lie.

> If you put the burden of "proof of accomplishment" on the workers, that may stifle workplace attractiveness and pose a bureaucratic hurdle.

An example of such a system is a glorified Excel sheet, given to your manager monthly, where you write how many hours have you worked on a given workday and which project you should report the time on, if you have multiple.

Getting acquainted with the system might take half an hour. Filling it in, in most trivial cases, is a copy-paste that takes up to five minutes a month. In case you have a more complicated case of working times, you should already be accustomed to noting down your work time daily, even if for your own good.

You have a point there, I stand corrected.

I guess it's good for workers: No one will work over what he is suppose to work and also will stop answering emails/slack/etc after work hours and/or in the weekends.

Employers have this stupid notion that the workers are slacking but in office setting IMO this would backfire by malicious compliance from the workers.

Also, good job Spanish Trade Union in making things worse for everyone in EU.

I suspect it's only a fraction of employees that work more than they're supposed to, but as they're workaholics that work a lot more, they move the mean and it has a big positive impact for employers.

If this is true, this ruling is bound to have an impact on EU economic activity. And I don't see how it can be good, given that nobody's thinking that EU labor is too cheap. If it's applied at face value, it can only reduce worked hours at current costs, or have employers pay more for current output. Definitely can't increase EU labor competivity.

This is about labor rights. If you're paid for 40h your employer should not be able to press you to do more without compensation. Easy as that.

If the added working time has much value they'll find a way to compensate. This way it simply means that you can't force a fastfood worker to do closing shift and then still clean after they've done their work.

Outside of the pure "pair of hands" work there is a lot of evidence that more working time doesn't increase productivity.

And, really, life is about more than just work. No need to allow companies to slowly erode the rights previous generations of workers have fought for.

Yes, there is clear tension between labor rights and labor competivity, that's clearly established.

One area were overworking is very common practice is academia. There is no time tracking at most German universities (interestingly, universities of applied sciences seem to have them). It would actually be a pretty huge shift in the academic workspace if time tracking was mandatory. I suspect that most research faculty easily work 50% or more on top of their regular load without pay. Especially in fields where it's common practice to hand out 20h/week positions with the implied expectation that you put in a full week workload.

There’s more to life than productivity. The quality of life for EU citizens is high and getting higher.

> The quality of life for EU citizens is high and getting higher.

But not thanks to this court ruling. The only thing that will bring employers and employees is more bureaucracy.

Employees which let themselves get exploited before, will let themselves get exploited with precise time tracking as well. After all, who's going to check whether you actually tracked the time you spent working after hours – answering e-mails, calling back a client, or fixing bugs in your code?

Seems very reasonable to me, don't know why you call this bureaucracy:

"The Court holds that, in the absence of a system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured, it is not possible to determine, objectively and reliably, either the number of hours worked and when that work was done, or the number of hours of overtime worked [...]"

ALL places I have worked at have this in some way. Maybe not every day and maybe not always 100% correct but how else will they bill projects internally???

For project budget and billing purposes, it is sufficient to track the number of hours each day. This court decision, however, would require to also track the start and end time, as well as the durations of all breaks. That's because there are laws regulating how much break time you have to take each day (dependend on how many hours you work) and also how much time has to pass between two work days. If you're working from home, you'd have to track every little interruption in which you walk the dog, take your child to kindergarten, etc., otherwise your start and end time won't fit your billed hours.

Of course, nobody will bother with such tedious timekeeping, and will instead just enter plausible but made up values for start and end times, rendering this court decision useless.

No idea why you're so bitter about this, but obviously there is no expectation that each minute is recorded. This just spreads a common practice to the exploitative employers that don't respect workers rights - such as the right to have a20 minute break during the day.

> obviously there is no expectation that each minute is recorded

Bingo! In practice, employees will just fill in whatever values are convenient. Nothing's going to change for an employee who was pressured (explicitly or implicitly) to work unpaid overtime – now they'll be pressured (explicitly or implicitly) to not track the time they're working after hours. It's just more bureaucracy for everyone, including for honest, fair employers.

And yes, I'm very bitter about this. Bureaucratic, ivory-tower decisions like this one are partly responsible for phenomenons like Brexit and the German AfD party, which in turn pose a danger to the prosperity and peace we enjoy in Europe.

Oh the "let's be sensible" argument...

Please do not follow this road. According to EU the main target of Russian disinformation campaign during current EU parlamentet elections is to spread the picture that EU is colapsing due to bureaucracy/corruption/incompetence/all power moving to Brussels/migration/Islam (select one depending on your target) while their country is solid as rock.

They have a ~1 billion Euro budget to spread that garbage this year. Please don't do their work for free.

So we can never argue about it because the russians might try to use it against us? I would rather know the EU has problems so I can get away in time.

If the EU has problems we can discuss those left and right. The difference between having problems and making them up is relevant here.

Not saying that.

But remember what I said next you see someone twisting a complex issue into "the sky is falling, why can't our politicians see it".

We have this in the US. 99.5% of values are collected by a computer and therefore recorded accurately.

I've never seen anyone clock in and out of a pee break people only clock in for the day out for lunch back from lunch and out to go home.

Employees are strongly encouraged not to put in made up values that happen to result in them being paid more money on pain of termination and or prosecution.

Employers are strongly encouraged on pain of getting sued not to put in made up values that don't reflect the work the employee actually did.

People STILL do cheat but having the legal expectation of maintaining an auditable record normalizes accurate time keeping and makes it hard for smaller fish to make targets by cheating as they have to actively forge records and encourage behavior that is obviously erroneous.

Think of being asked to help out with additional work after your shift vs being asked to explicitly clock out THEN get back to work. Its a clear and obvious line made explicit by time keeping practices.

Of course record keeping is necessary but not sufficient. You do have to be willing to enforce the law but this would be doubly hard with lax or non existent record keeping.

On the overall I cannot even imagine how this could be deemed onerous. On net someone that works 8 hours spends perhaps 1 minute clocking in and out. It could even happen via an app on the employees phone or at their computer.

> And yes, I'm very bitter about this. Bureaucratic, ivory-tower decisions like this one are partly responsible for phenomenons like Brexit and the German AfD party, which in turn pose a danger to the prosperity and peace we enjoy in Europe.

And yet time tracking most people want. This practice has 70% plus Support in Germany and Austria. From this I gather most workplaces are pretty horrible.

> And yet time tracking most people want. This practice has 70% plus Support in Germany and Austria.

Source, please? That number looks pretty specific, so I presume you have a statistic to back it up.

I just have one break (lunch) and for tracking and internal billing, and for knowing whether I'm ahead or behind on my flexible working time (I'm expected to do 40h and I have a buffer that can't go above +15h or below -15h) I punch in and out in the morning, for lunch, and when I leave. On some days I don't bother or I forget, and instead enter, as you say "plausible but made up" values. But the important thing is this: The flex time buffer is visible to my employer. If I do just a few late evenings or a sunday session because of some problem with a deployment, say - then It's understood that I'll come in by noon on monday, or take friday off. It's not expected that I do 40h of normal time AND that sunday firefighting. I can't see any problem with this or why it would be onerous or oberly bureaucratic.

In your case this way of working and paying for that work is already built-in into your company's business plan.

The problem is that there is a significant fraction of employers that pay for 40h (or whatever) and get more. And this is built-in into their current business plan (even if not explicitly). Their employees seem OK with it because they do it. But it's not easy to change into your situation: these employers either will have to pay more to get the hours they already get or pay the same but get less hours. This will have an impact on their cost structure. Whatever widgets they make will get more expensive.

This new regulation is the way the government is saying to these companies "yeah all this economic activity that you're doing is nice but we don't really want it actually. Not like this!"

Yes but if they systematically work more than 40h weeks then that's just not something to brush off as "well that's what we do in the industry", that's in many places illegal.

Widgets that need to be more expensive, should.

> all this economic activity that you're doing is nice but we don't really want it actually. Not like this

That's what they said when we had 6day work weeks and went to 5, or when we got 40h work weeks. Actually enforcing it shouldn't be a bigger change than mandating it already was. Same thing with holidays. I make REALLY expensive widgets because I have 5weeks paid holiday. And they should be expensive because I really want the holiday.

Outside work the quality of life is good. But many people can't find employment in their field, which clobbers quality of life.

I work few hours with great productivity --- would this new ruling make me have to increase my hours to keep my pay?

"The quality of life for EU citizens is high and getting higher."

This is debatable, moreover, ostensibly the primary driver of that improved quality is actually productivity, though obviously there are other things.

EU excepting Norway/Switzerland/Lux etc. really does depend on productivity quite a lot.

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