The Working Time Directive features a 48-hour week on average, including overtime, that cannot be exceeded, although it does offer the opportunity for employees to opt out of this weekly limit. However, the EU’s plans for revisions to the working time directive may make it more difficult to opt out.
The UK has made extensive use of the opt-out option, but trade unions and some countries like Spain and Belgium worry that the option negates the health and safety objectives of the directive. Despite this, the EU has recently announced that it believes the opt-out should be maintained. There will, however, apparently be tighter regulations concerning their use.
Currently, employees can opt out at any stage of their work, and employers only require their written agreement. A provision to this effect is included in the employment contracts by many employers. But the European Commission has stated that this isn’t legitimate, and there has been a proposition that workers will not be allowed to opt out before beginning work or during the first 4 weeks of their employment, unless the contract is for 10 weeks or less. The agreement will also have to be renewed annually.
Similarly, the current need for between a week and 3 months’ notice for withdrawal from an opt-out is proposed to change to 2 months, unless employees are within the first 6 months of employment, their probationary period, or the 3 months following the end of their probationary period. In these cases, workers will be able to cancel their opt-out without notice.
Detailed records of the hours of all employees who have opted out will also need to be kept, rather than the current records kept that only contain the names of workers opting out. This may mean the introduction of timesheets or time-recording software, despite the negative reactions that such methods can provoke.
Those who do opt out will also be subject to a maximum weekly working time of 60 hours, unless it includes inactive on-call time, in which case 65 hours will be the maximum. The European Court of Justice has previously suggested that any time spent at the workplace on call should count as working time, regardless of whether work was done or not. But now there will be a distinction between active and inactive on call time, where inactive will not constitute working time unless national law or agreements say otherwise.