The email train: Does the commute count as working hours?

It seems the debate about “working hours” rages on. We recently wrote a blog about how working hours have changed and that people are moving towards much more flexible models.

It seems the latest stage of the debate about working hours now stretches to the commute, after a recent study from the University of West England found the average commute by train was now more than an hour. As a result, people are using the time to check work emails and, as wi-fi access continues to improve, starting their day job whilst on the daily commute.

Some say, this should be counted as part of the working day, particularly as a lot of people grow to rely on that time. However, others say that it is also important to switch off from work and that the commute should not be used to catch up outside of normal working hours.

What’s more, some employers may be concerned that if they do count this commuting time as “working hours”, there could be a compromise on the quality of that work. How reliable is the wi-fi connection for example? Is the person able to concentrate properly, particularly if the train carriage is noisy?

Questions like this prompt further queries as to reasons why commuters are working on the train and in fact, is it actually more for convenience. In which case, any reasonable employer would surely rather their employees worked from an office to prevent any issues arising, and therefore this reduces any need for this time to be chargeable.

There are further issues that arise from this, as working on the commute produces a lack of confidentiality and data protection. There will be GDPR implications as to how securely any data is held and it is unlikely that any wi-fi connections, or any other software, is going to be 100% safe outside the normal working environment.

But as question marks remain over what “normal” working hours are considered to be, is it time more workplaces started to adopt more of a flexible policy towards those who are travelling, or are trying to juggle other commitments? If they do, it could cause a huge shift in the concept of the “working day”. Whilst there could be benefits to being more flexible, it could also lead people to work longer hours – or worse, the expectation for a 24/7 email culture will see people struggle to switch off.

Plus, there is the legal issue of working more than 48 hours per week. Working on a long commute may push many employees over that limit and they would need to opt out of the working time limit for the employer to be acting lawfully.

Overall, if a common sense approach is applied and the workforce are given the correct tools needed to manage time more effectively (look out for a further blog on this, coming soon) this could be a much better way to achieve the ultimate work-life balance.

If you would like any advice relating to employment law, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

David Seals

David Seals


Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502218

Office: Dorking Office