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.

More blog posts from this author

Can I force my staff to have the Covid Vaccination?

Recent news reports indicate that some employers are considering making it compulsory for their staff to have a Covid vaccination.  Is this a lawful, or even sensible, move by employers?

Furlough Update - 1 September 2020

Today marks some key changes to the Job Retention Scheme where companies that have been using the government's coronavirus furlough scheme are now having to contribute to workers' wages.

Celtic footballer’s quarantine breach may amount to gross misconduct

It is often said that the football industry is unlike any other. The money involved, the rewarding of past failures with new appointments and the self-indulgence of a minority of players.

More blog posts from this sector

The Spring Budget 2021: A Summary

As the UK eagerly tuned in to the most anticipated Budget for a generation, many were left wondering what the Chancellor’s traditional “rabbit out of a hat” might contain - especially as several big measures had been announced beforehand.

Uber Drivers are workers and not self-employed, Supreme Court rules

19 February 2021. The UK Supreme Court has issued its judgment in the highly anticipated case of Uber BV v Aslam, in which the key issue was the employment status of Uber drivers. The ruling reinforced the findings of earlier legal challenges (most recently the Court of Appeal in 2018), which found that Uber drivers are workers and not self-employed.

Coronavirus and Sick Pay

As new variants of the coronavirus are emerging and the pandemic continues, employees will continue to take sick leave due to testing positive for the coronavirus and/or being required to self-isolate.

Our Team

Meet all of the team at Downslaw


15A High Street
KT11 3DH

T: 01932 589599
F: 01932 505087

DX: 46102 COBHAM


156 High Street

T: 01306 880110
F: 01306 471230



The Tanners
75 Meadrow

T: 01483 861848
F: 01483 431965