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Employers must ensure that the period during which an employee attends vocational training required by the employer is regarded as working time. Although the period allocated to such training does not meet all the conditions under European labour law for "working time", a recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") provides a number of important clarifications in this respect. It is advisable for employers to pay attention to the developments introduced by this decision, which is expected to bring about a change in the practice of national courts.
The Iasi (Romania) Court of Appeal asked the CJEU in Case C-909/19 for a preliminary ruling on whether periods during which an employee takes a vocational training course represent working time, when such course:
In essence, the CJEU has ruled that the period during which an employee attends vocational training required by their employer constitutes working time, even if the training occurs outside the employee's normal place of work and even if during this time the employee does not perform their duties according to their employment agreement.
The CJEU decision is notable because it qualifies as working time a period which does not meet the defining elements of working time laid down in Directive 2003/88/EC – Organisation of Working Time (Article 2(1)), i.e. any period during which the employee:
In the case under review, the period of vocational training meets only one of the three conditions listed above, namely that the employee is at the disposal of their employer as long as they are taking part in the course at the employer's instruction.
As is clear from the considerations set out in the decision, the period during which the employee completes vocational training imposed by the employer was qualified as working time rather by excluding the possibility of this time being regarded as a rest period, given the provisions of the Directive under which the concepts of working time and rest period are mutually exclusive.
To hold that the period in question constitutes working time and not a rest period, the Court held that:
It is to be expected that the CJEU's ruling will find practical application in the decisions issued by national courts. It is therefore advisable for employers to re-examine their plans and schedules for 2022 in terms of employee training. One solution for employers to ensure alignment with the ruling is to organise training programmes within the limits of normal working time. Alternatively, if these programmes are run outside normal working hours, employers can expect possible requests from employees or even labour inspectors for compensation for overtime.
author: Mara Moga-Paler