What happens when someone travelling regularly for work spends long hours on flights? Are these hours to be considered work hours or not?

The Israeli Hours of Work and Rest Law – 1951 regulates the hours of works in Israel as well as the hours of rest. The law defines a working hour as an hour in which the employee makes himself available to the employer (including certain breaks referred to by the Law); rest hours are generally defined as 36 hours, which for a Jewish employee must include the Saturday.

The Law, which was enacted in a very different era, speaks in simple binary terms: you are either working or resting – no “in between” situation has been defined.

However, today, our lives are full of “grey areas” and there are “in between” hours that are a mixture of work and rest. These include “on call” hours, “sleeping on the work premises” hours and business related flight hours.

The Israeli courts are filling these gaps. However, until recently there was no real discussion of the issue of business related flight hours, where on the one hand, the employee would not be flying unless there was a business purpose; and on the other hand, this is not pure working time (the employee can find himself enjoying a Hollywood movie or a book during the flight).

This legal issue folds two different aspects: (a) do the business related flight hours constitute working hours for the purposes of payment and to which payment is the employee entitled; and (b) are these to be considered working hours for the purpose of the limit to the number of hours of work allowed (a quite absurd issue that may mean that any flight from Israel to Australia is automatically a breach of the Law!).

In June 2013, the District Labor Court in Tel-Aviv (in the Zlotki – Advantech Technologies case) discussed this issue for the first time and ruled that while usually travel to work is not to be considered as working time, during business flights, the employee is not completely free to concentrate on his own matters. The court ruled that the actual flight time is to be considered working hours but excluded travel time to and from the airport and time spent at the airport. Accordingly, the court decided to deduct 4 hours from each business flight presented by the suing employee. The court even hinted that it only regards day flights as working hours as they occur during working hours. The court still did not address the issue of hours of time restrictions.

This judgment (which is currently under appeal) has no precedential effect as it was given by the District Court.

While I do have reservations about the solution adopted by the court, I believe that this judgment is nevertheless very important in raising this long overdue issue. As in other doctrines, here as well: admitting that there is an issue is the biggest step towards solving it.

Therefore, to all you readers I recommend to examine the treatment of the “in between” hours and to analyze if the treatment is reasonable and in line with the principles of law. If you are of need of assistance, I am available and will handle this only during my actual working time, although if you are situated in a nice location I may consider utilizing some business related time…