More stringent rules for employers on registering working hours

In January 2008, a 2007 amendment to the Working Time Act came into force which provides for new obligations for employers with regard to registering employees’ working hours. Penalties for employers who violate these rules have been considerably tightened. While the trade unions have approved this legal initiative, the employers’ side contends that the new regulations would result in considerable administrative costs.

In the summer of 2007, the Austrian parliament passed an amendment to the 1969 Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, AZG) which provides for a number of new regulations, in particular with regard to working time flexibility and part-time work (AT0708019I). This amendment was drafted by the coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) in close cooperation with the social partners (AT0702029I).

One aspect of the extensive amendment concerns new and more stringent obligations for employers with regard to registering and providing information about hours actually worked by employees. The latest provisions, which came into effect on 1 January 2008, aim to improve employee protection in Austria.

New rules

In general, employers have always been obliged to register the exact hours actually worked by each employee. However, this general obligation has now been extended to micro enterprises with very few employees and even to those with one employee only. Employers must now register the exact workplace, the duration and type of work carried out by each employee separately, as well as information about different levels of pay – for example, for weekend work, holiday work or overtime work – and compensatory rest periods. Even in the case that the start and end of the working day are clearly regulated in a company, the actual start and end of each employee’s working day have to be registered by the employer. The employer also has a duty to register scheduled breaks taken by each employee, unless the duration of breaks is defined by a works agreement and does not exceed the statutory minimum of half an hour.

Labour inspection

At the request of the Labour Inspectorate (Arbeitsinspektion), the employer is obliged to immediately submit all required information and to allow the inspection of all relevant documents. In this context, the employer should, in particular, make sure that a normal daily maximum of – usually – 10 working hours is observed. According to a recent verdict of Austria’s Supreme Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgerichtshof, VwGH), the documents providing evidence of the employees’ actual working hours have to be filed at the establishment where the employee concerned is employed. Hence, keeping a central collection and filing system of the employees’ working hours at the headquarters of a company which runs several establishments does not meet the legal requirements. In the case of the existence of an electronic registration system, each employee is entitled to regularly demand a copy of the respective individual register.

Exemptions

Under certain circumstances, for instance under the terms of flexitime arrangements, employees may register their working hours by themselves. In this case, employees are then obliged to hand these records over to the employer at the end of each flexitime period. However, even these arrangements do not release the employer from the duty to regularly monitor both the hours actually worked by employees and the registration documents.

Penalties

In the case of breaches of registration obligations, the amendment to the act provides for significantly increased administrative fines, particularly in cases of substantial and repeated infringements. Under the previous legislation, breaches of registration duties resulted in having to pay a fine of between €20 and €436. With the legislative amendments, the range of fines has been increased to amounts from €72 to €1,815. Moreover, infringements can now carry a fine for each employee separately, whose working hours have failed to be correctly registered. Hence, whereas in previous times – even in the case of punishment – it could have been cheaper for an employer to systematically disregard registration obligations, such practices are now – in the case of inspection – likely to amount to considerable costs.

Social partner views

Although the social partners have approved the far-reaching amendment to the AZG as a whole, the employers’ side has expressed reservations with regard to the rigid obligation for correctly registering working hours of employees. Some employers contend that these duties would bring about substantial administrative costs, especially in branches of business where irregular working hours are common. In contrast, the Austrian trade unions expect that the tougher penalties for employers who fail to correctly register working hours will have a deterrent effect, such that the number of employers who violate working hour regulations will eventually decrease.

Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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