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Must you pay for the commute? Sometimes, yes

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Q. One of our nonexempt employees is now working at a different location on Thursdays. This is a temporary assignment with no end date. It normally takes her 10 minutes to drive to work. But now she has to drive 90 minutes. Should she be paid for 1 hour and 20 minutes of travel time (subtracting her 10-minute normal commute)? — B.W., Pennsylvania

A. This is a close call and, given the risks, it may be safest to pay this employee in the manner you are suggesting. The general Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rules says employers don’t have to pay for employees’ normal travel to and from work (assuming no compensable work is performed during the commute). But an issue arises when an employee who regularly works at a fixed location is requested to work in another city for a special one-day assignment.

Under FLSA regulations, the time spent traveling to and from such special assignments can’t be regarded as ordinary home-to-work travel. Thus, the extra time spent traveling should be compensated by subtracting the employee’s normal commute time from the time spent traveling to the assignment.

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