Being on call in uniform: whether or not to continue to be paid?

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When you have to be on call for work and therefore sometimes wear a uniform in your free time, should you be paid for it? This question was at the center of a lawsuit filed by a group of ambulance workers against their employer, the Dutch UMCG Ambulance Care. In this article, I’ll tell you what the court has said about this…

Being on call in uniform: whether or not to continue to be paid?
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Ambulance workers waiting in uniform

There is a period when you work, have breaks, and have free time. But what exactly is waiting time? It is the time when you are on call for work but not actively working. Some employers pay for this time, while others do not. This depends, among other things, on how restricted you are during the waiting time. If you do not really have the freedom to plan your day or are frequently called in practice, you are usually paid.

Five ambulance workers, living on the Dutch Wadden Islands, believe that their waiting time should be paid. During 24-hour shifts, they must be physically present for 12 hours and are allowed to spend the other 12 hours at home. When they are called at home, they must leave within two minutes, dressed in uniform. Because they must be ready so quickly, they wear this clothing when they are on call. This is not mandatory but very practical. After all, it saves dressing time.

However, there is a downside. Because wearing the uniform restricts the ambulance workers during their waiting time. The clothing must be clean, odor-free, and virus-free. This means that during their waiting time, for example, they cannot garden, prepare food, or exercise. When they are called, they also do not have time to shower because they cannot leave within two minutes. That is quite a limitation of their free time. Additionally, the fact that they must be constantly ready also means that their free time is very limited.


Being on call in uniform: whether or not to continue to be paid?

This case has a long history. During a lawsuit in 2021, the district court ruled that waiting time is not working time. And so, the employer had to pay the employees for this. UMCG Ambulance Care disagreed and appealed to the Court of Appeal. In 2022, the ruling on appeal was reversed, and the court found that waiting time could not be considered working time. The employees then filed an appeal in cassation, which means they still want to appeal the decision.

In March 2024, the Supreme Court ruled that the pressure experienced by the employees is a ‘subjective experience.’ It was also indicated that the 2-minute response time is a guideline and not an obligation. There are no (employment law) consequences for the employees if this is not met. But if the employees do not respond within 2 minutes, they will be asked why it was not possible. In that regard, the Supreme Court understands the pressure experienced and therefore considers waiting time as working time.

The highest judicial authority in the Netherlands has not made a final decision. First, it must be examined what exactly the impact of the waiting time is. The case has been referred to the Court of Appeal in Den Bosch. Once a ruling is known, you will of course read it on Prettybusiness…



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