UK employers must re-evaluate their management processes after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that time spent commuting by workers without a fixed office should be regarded as working time, a provider of workforce management solutions has said.

Previously, time spent traveling to and from first and last appointments has not been regarded as work by most employers.

Businesses with workers who travel as part of their jobs may now be in breach of EU working time regulations.

The court says the ruling has been enforced to protect the health and safety of mobile workers, as set out in the European Union's working time directive, which stipulates that they cannot work more than 48 hours in a week unless they opt out.

Christian Berenger, operations director at Auto Time, which provides software that allows a company to manage the activities of their workforce remotely, has said the ruling is likely to include rising labour costs, will put new pressure on companies to balance their books.

An ongoing legal case in Spain involving a security systems company called Tyco lead to the ECJ ruling.

After the company shut its regional offices in 2011, employees had to travel varying distances before their first appointment. Although they used company vehicles to travel Tyco did not treat the journey to their first appointment of the day, or the journey from the last assignment to home, as working time,

Instead they regarded this travel time as "rest time" under the Working Time Directive.

However, the ECJ ruled that this travelling "constitutes working time within the meaning of the directive".

Mr Berenger said: “The new ruling could leave contractors, already under pressure to deliver their services cost-effectively, confronted by increased labour costs and facing a tough battle to operate profitably within tight margins.

“To minimise compliance risk, employers need to put systems in place that will enable them to gain total transparency of their workforce, track their movements and plan staff workloads to coincide with their daily commute to minimise costs.”

Autotime says management software such as that which it offers provides a secure web portal enabling staff to view their assigned workloads and verify the start and finish times for every job using their smartphone or tablet, the company says.

Scheduling functions provide managers with the ability to optimise staff shifts by allocating job tasks to dovetail with their daily commute, ensuring assignments at the start and end of the day are located near employees' homes to minimise travel time.

Alert notifications can also be configured to highlight when workers are approaching the 48-hour threshold as part of Working Time Directive.

Mr Berenger said: “The role of technology in supporting organisations to comply with the new EU ruling surrounding mobile workers should not be underestimated. With HR teams under increased pressure to keep up with changing employment regulations, employers must evaluate their business practices or risk falling foul of the law.

"By gaining instant visibility of their remote workers and streamlining compliance tasks, workforce management systems can not only meet their legal obligations but optimise their workforce for future bottom line growth.”