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Paying Employees for Travel Time

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 1/6/2012
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Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are required to pay employees the appropriate minimum wage and overtime rate for every compensable hour worked. Determining the number of hours worked by an employee is ordinarily a routine matter. However, when travel time is involved, employers must understand that the FLSA treats different types of travel, well, differently.

Whether an employee’s travel time constitutes compensable time under the FLSA typically depends on the kind of travel involved. Thus, employers must first identify the type of travel, and then apply the appropriate rule for such travel. Consider the following types of travel and the associated rules regarding compensability.

Home to Work Travel: As a general rule, time spent by an employee commuting to and from work before and after each workday is not considered compensable time. Importantly, the same holds true whether the employee works at a fixed location or at different job sites.

Home to Work in an Emergency: In some cases, time spent traveling from home to work may be considered compensable. The regulations interpreting the FLSA provide the following example: if an employee who has gone home after completing the day's work is subsequently called out at night to travel a substantial distance to perform an emergency job for a customer, all time spent on such travel is working time. According to the regulations, however, the result may be different in cases involving emergency calls to report to the employee’s regular place of business.

Travel that is all in the Day’s Work: Time spent in travel as part of an employee’s principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, must be counted as hours worked. If an employee is required to report at a meeting place to receive instructions, perform other work, or pick up and carry tools, then travel from the designated place to the work place is part of the day's work, and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract, custom, or practice.

Thus, if an employee finishes work on the premises at 5 pm, is sent to another job until 8 pm, and is then required to return to the employer's premises, arriving at 9 pm, then all of the time is compensable working time. However, if the employee goes home instead of returning to the employer's premises, the travel after 8 pm is not compensable working time because it is ordinary home-to-work travel time.

Home to Work for Special One-Day Assignment in another City: A problem arises when an employee who regularly works at a fixed location in one city is given a special 1-day work assignment in another city. Such travel cannot be considered a normal incident of employment because it is performed for the employer's benefit and at the employer’s special request to complete a particular and unusual assignment, similar to substantial travel occasioned by an emergency or travel that is all in the day's work.

Since this kind of travel is an integral part of the employee’s principal activity on the workday in question, time spent traveling would be compensable working time. However, time deductions may be made for any travel time the employee would have made on a regular work day and for the employee’s usual meal time.

Work Performed while Traveling: Any work which an employee is required to perform while traveling must be counted as hours worked. An employee who drives a truck, bus, automobile, boat or airplane, or an employee who is required to ride therein as an assistant or helper, is working while riding, except during bona fide meal periods or when he is permitted to sleep in adequate facilities furnished by the employer.

In the context of travel time, employers experience problems when they fail to recognize and count certain hours worked by employees as compensable work time. This means that employers must be proactive when it comes to knowing what the law requires. Given the potentially devastating consequences of a lawsuit, it is better to pay the required compensation now rather than later.

If you would like to learn more about your obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, click here. If you would like to read more about insuring against FLSA claims, click here.

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