By Susan E Prince and WAKEUP CALL
The issue of whether to pay employees for travel time can be confusing. The key to identifying whether travel time during the workday is compensable is determining whether the employees are engaged in travel as part of the employer’s principal activity or for the convenience of the employer.
Whether time spent traveling is paid work time for nonexempt employees depends on the type of travel involved. Travel time that is work time is subject to both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Here are 10 tips for employers when dealing with the issue of travel time:
- No need to pay employees for commuting!Traveling to and from where work is performed at the beginning and end of the workday is not work time. This is true whether the employee works at a fixed location or at different jobsites. Commuting includes the time spent walking from the parking lot to the worksite. If an employee has to report to a central meeting site to pick up equipment, supplies, or coworkers, or to get instructions, work time starts at that location.
- But if you do pay for commuting time… Employers may agree to pay for ordinary commuting time. However, such time does not have to be counted as hours worked and is not subject to the minimum wage and overtime requirements.
- Overnight travel can be confusing… Travel away from home is paid work time when it cuts across the employee’s workday. The time is not only hours worked on regular workdays during normal work hours, but also during the corresponding hours on non-work days.
- What about travel during working hours? Time that an employee spends traveling as part of his or her principal activity, such as travel from jobsite to jobsite during the workday, must be counted as hours worked.
- “But you made me take that conference call while we were driving to the meeting…” Any work that an employee is required to perform while traveling must be counted as hours worked.
- Emergencies. When an employee has gone home after completing his or her day’s work and is subsequently called out at night to travel a substantial distance to perform an emergency job for one of the employer’s customers, all time spent traveling is work time. However, the Wage and Hour Division has not addressed whether travel to and from the regular workplace in an emergency after hours is work time.
- Pay your homeworkers when they travel to deliver their work! Homeworkers must be paid for time spent traveling to and from the distribution point to pick up or deliver the homeworker’s own work or the work of other homeworkers. Where the travel includes time spent in personal activities, such as shopping or going to the post office, this personal travel time need not be included in counting the hours worked.
- Is it part of their principal activity? Time that an employee spends traveling as part of his or her principal activity, such as travel from jobsite to jobsite during the workday, must be counted as hours worked. Where an employee is required to report at a meeting place to receive instructions, pick up tools, or to perform other work there, the travel from the designated place to the workplace is part of the day’s work and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract or custom.
- What about driving employer-owned vehicles? Travel between home and work in a company-owned vehicle is not paid work time as long as the travel is within the normal commuting area for the employer’s business, and the use of the vehicle is subject to an agreement between the employer and the employee. This exception also applies to time spent in activities incidental to the use of the vehicle for commuting (such as stopping for gas).
- Compensating a special assignment in a different location. When an employee who regularly works at a fixed location in one city is given a special one-day assignment in another city, much of the time spent traveling is work time and must be compensated. For example, an employee who works in Washington, D.C., with regular work hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is given a special assignment in New York City, with instruction to leave Washington at 8 a.m. She arrives in New York at noon, ready for work. The special assignment is completed at 3 p.m., and the employee arrives back in Washington at 7 p.m.
Such travel is not regarded as ordinary home-to-work travel and must be compensated. It was performed for the employer’s benefit and at its special request to meet the needs of a particular and unusual assignment. Therefore, it would qualify as an integral part of the principal activity that the employee was hired to perform.