Travel time and the FLSA: When must you pay? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Travel time and the FLSA: When must you pay?

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To pay or not to pay for travel time? That question has baffled many an employer. Here is an analysis of the issue, using a case study:

Commuting time. Let's say Robert Lee is a nonexempt employee who occasionally travels for your company. It's clear that you don't need to pay for his commute to and from work; the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 covers that.

But suppose you ask Robert to pick up some company documents along the way to work. In that case, you'd pay him from the time he picks up the plans. The law says that if the travel is for the company's benefit, it is paid. If it is purely commuting, it's not.

Working at different locations. If you send Robert around to rally the troops, things are a bit different. If Robert reports to headquarters before making his rounds, the commute to headquarters is commuting time, but all travel from headquarters until his last stop is paid time. Time from the last stop to home is unpaid commuting time. (Also note that if Robert goes directly from home to a work site, that time, too, is commuting time.)

Any travel that is a regular part of the employee's job is paid time.

Day trips. Generally, travel time on work-related day trips is counted, except for meal times.

Say Robert drives to the airport and takes a 6 a.m. plane to a seminar in Chicago. He arrives at 8:30 a.m. and takes a cab to the seminar. The seminar runs from 9 to 5, with an hour lunch break. After the seminar, he chats with friends for an hour before taking a cab back to the airport. He flies back to his base city and drives home.

What counts as "compensable" time?

You don't pay Robert for his trip to the airport; that's commuting time. But you do pay from the time he arrives at the airport through his flight, cab ride and during the Chicago seminar. (He doesn't get paid for his lunch period.)

Do you pay for Robert's chatting time with friends? If there are no other flights home until later, yes. But if Robert simply opts for a later flight to swap stories with his buddies, the answer is "no."

The cab back to the Chicago airport and the flight home are paid time. The drive home from the airport is considered commuting time.

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