City firms break work time law

City law firms are breaking the law over the 48-hour working week – despite a strict ruling in the High Court last week.

In the first judgment on the Working Time Regulations since they came into force last October, a High Court judge ruled that five members of pit deputies' union NACODS did not have to work more than an average of 48 hours per week in a 17-week period.

The judge called the introduction of the 48-hour week a “mandatory requirement which must apply to all contracts of employment”, unless employees voluntarily opt out.

Herbert Smith partner Peter Frost says: “Employers will have to ensure they have sufficient time recording procedures in place and that those procedures are rigidly and periodically reviewed… or they could find themselves guilty of criminal liability.”

He adds: “It is known on the grapevine that a number of firms have taken a pretty robust view of the regulations and could have something of a shock in months to come.”

Software specialist Alby Smith, who has launched a computer programme to record time worked in the office, says that several of the large City law firms are doing nothing to comply with the regulations. He claims 60-hour working weeks are common.

Smith says: “These firms are liable to get done, and they are not making sure they have enough information to defend themselves.

“They are taking a very relaxed approach and they are not complying with the law.”

Smith's computer programme records time for lawyers and non-fee earners and gives “pre-emptive warning” when workers near their time limits.