In a circular to member councils last week, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said the Working Time Directive, which sets out a maximum working week of 48 hours, applied to any worker who had 'a contract of employment and the employer has a duty to provide work, pay tax and national insurance contributions etc'.
English and Welsh employers argue that senior managers are covered by an exemption in the European Directive which excludes staff with a certain degree of autonomy and decision-making responsibility.
The issue has been a major source of contention between employers and officers' union MPO, which is lobbying strongly for greater working time protection for members. It says too many top officers suffer from excessive working hours and stress.
MPO communications manager Martin McGrath said the union welcomed COSLA's 'sensible approach to the regulations'.
'The Local Government Management Board is increasingly out on a limb. They should realise that and inform their member councils. There's a danger they're putting their members at risk in terms of legal challenge,' he said.
Protection under the Directive is not watertight, with officers able to opt out. Mr McGrath said it was hard to understand their reticence, 'given the flexibility in the legislation'.
Employers principal negotiating officer Adam Barker said there were still different interpretations of the rules, and chief executives had already agreed to be exempt.
'We're not being difficult but are reserving our position until there's more definite guidance,' he said.
It was likely to take precedents set in the courts to establish when the Directive applied and there was great variation in managerial responsibilities, he said.