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Rules of the road: Know when to pay hourly employees for travel time

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

You don’t need to pay nonexempt employees for their commuting time to and from the workplace. That’s simple. But what if such employees occasionally travel off-site (or even overnight) for work reasons?

When to pay nonexempt workers for travel locally or on overnight trips baffles many employers. Mistakes can spark anything from mild complaints to class-action lawsuits—a black eye for you either way.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rules on compensating hourly employees for travel time. The best way to decipher them is using a case study.

 

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Home-to-work travel

Let’s say Robert Smith is a nonexempt employee who sometimes travels for work. It’s clear that you don’t need to pay for his commute to 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 documents. The law says that if the travel is for the company’s benefit, it is compensable. If it is purely commuting, it’s not.

Working at different locations

The U.S. Department of Labor says travel time spent by employees as part of their principal activity, such as travel among job sites during the workday, is considered “work time” and must be paid.

For example, say Robert reports to headquarters before making his rounds to visit other company locations. In that case, 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. Any travel that is a regular part of the employee’s job is paid time.

Out-of-town day trips

Generally, time spent traveling to and returning from the other city is work time. You can exclude the employee’s regular commuting time and meal breaks.

For example, say Robert drives to the airport and takes a 6 am flight to a seminar in Chicago. He arrives at 8:30 am 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.

Which hours count as “compensable” time?

You don’t have to pay Robert for his trip to the airport; that’s commuting time. But you do have to pay him from the time he arrives at the airport through his flight, cab ride and during the Chicago seminar. (You don’t have to pay 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 unpaid commuting time.

Final tip: Make sure nonexempt employees understand when they will be paid before they travel. Spell out the rules clearly in your employee policies.

Know the FLSA rules for rest periods, on-call time, training and more

In addition to travel time, employers face many other questions about what counts as “compensable time” under the FLSA. Here are answers to some of the stickier issues:

ON-CALL TIME. Employees required to remain on call on the employer’s premises are considered working while on call. Employees required to remain on call at home (or who can leave a message where they can be reached) are considered not working (in most cases) while on call.

WAITING TIME. Employees are paid for waiting time when they are “engaged to wait.” Employees fall under that definition if they’re required to be at a work site while waiting to perform work.

REST AND MEAL PERIODS. You typically must pay employees for short rest periods, usually 20 minutes or less. You generally don’t need to pay employees for bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more).

Employees must be completely relieved from duty during unpaid breaks and meal periods. Example: If you require your assistant to eat lunch at her desk in case a call comes in, she must be paid because she hasn’t been fully relieved of her duties.

Note: Many states set their own rest-break and meal-break laws. For a state-by-state list of those laws, go to the DOL's site at:www.dol.gov/esa/programs/whd/state/state.htm.

SLEEPING TIME. Employees required to be on duty for less than 24 hours are considered “working,” even if they’re permitted to sleep. Employees required to be on duty for 24 hours or more may agree with their employer to exclude from hours worked any scheduled sleeping periods of eight hours or less.

TRAINING PROGRAMS AND MEETINGS. You don’t have to pay employees for time spent at training programs, lectures or similar activities as long as they meet the following four criteria: (1) The event is outside normal hours. (2) It’s voluntary. (3) It’s not job-related. (4) No work is performed during that time.

Source: Adapted from DOL Fact Sheet No. 22.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve August 11, 2015 at 1:19 am

My work requires travel from my home to various locations. These locations can be 2 miles or may be 200 miles from home. The company does not pay anything for the first 40 miles each way; 80 miles round trip. Visiting more than one location in a day is unlikely. Anything over the 40 mile requirement is compensated by a rate around 50 cents per mile. No wage for driving time is ever paid since they believe the mileage rate covers it. Question 1 is how do they arrive at 40 mile as the home to work/work to home minimum and is it legal? Question 2 is how can they pay mileage instead of hourly rate. And question 3 is how they avoid paying anything for hotel to work/work to hotel (mileage is generally under the 40 mile minimum)?

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Lynda May 30, 2015 at 9:28 am

So far this web page regarding “Rules of the road” has given me 99% of information I need in order to take possible action against the company I work for. without getting fired. I’ am not sure where to start. legally. This is regarding past overtime hours, travel time between job sites, waiting on duty, waiting when “engaged to wait” a requirement to be at a work site while waiting to preform work, promised reimbursement for expensive computer supplies a requirement for our daily work, never completely relieved from duty during unpaid breaks. Only recently I and other employee’s have been getting overtime pay if authorized. So, far I and including the former employee’s that quit or got fired has gotten paid for past overtime hrs. or paid while on break (not relieved from duty completely ),reimbursement for computer supplies required for our job, travel time to next job site, or waiting while “engaged to wait” I worked mostly anywhere from 10 to 15hrs. a-day and got paid for 7 to 9.0 hrs. because our road supervisor says corporate don’t pay for waiting, or for traveling between job sites or fueling up the company vehicle.or breaks nor are we required to be relieved of all duties while taking a unpaid break. We are required to take clients to the pharmacy and are required to wait on duty 15min. or longer without pay. I do not get paid for waiting on duty or traveling between job sites that require driving anywhere from 5 to 65 miles or more. I’ am paid hourly not by the mile or piecerate (by the job) nor am I a taxi cab or limousine service. Each employee when hired is assigned a vehicle that they are required to use for their job, each newly hired employee is required to take home their assigned vehicle and they are required to take care of the vehicle by doing a post trip inspection from a list that is in their new hire packet, These vehicles are to be used for our daily work only and not for personal use, employee’s homes are like an unofficial off site headquarter base, for our company’s main Corporate office that is located in the lower part of our state of Arizona and they have a road supervisor and employed drivers for each county, road supervisor’s are required by corporate policy to set up a manifest the night before, emailing an allocated number of rides to each employed driver in their area. I’,m paid only 15 min.(I was told the company was doing us a favor) for calling clients the night before to make sure they are going the next day to their appointments, I don’t get paid for my off duty time to print out/write the information from the manifest that was emailed, nor do I get paid while off duty to search and write down all the information that is needed for my next days work, such as phone numbers, addresses,and off duty time spent locating on the map where these people live plus additional time up to 1hr. or longer calling beyond the paid 15 minutes. I also have to pay for my own supply’s i.e. computer,paper, and ink cartridges, when hired I was told from the road supervisor that the company would supply computer paper and ink cartridges as needed but I never heard from the company office nor was I ever asked if I need any supplies in order to be prepared for the next days duties. At the start of each day, I’ am required to have my phone turned on early as possible so I can be reached by our company road supervisor, when get into my vehicle I’ am required to text my road supervisor I’ am enroute to my first appointment (which I don’t get paid for). Then text again when I arrive (my pay starts) and text again to supervisor when I reach my destination(my pay stops) If I don’t have any scheduled appointments pending or any work site to go to I’ am to wait on duty(without pay) for my road supervisor to send me a text where to go for my next work site. He has given me a verbal warning and threatened that next time I send in my hours at the end of the day and I add hours for “waiting on duty” to go to a work site or add hours for traveling between work sites he will write me up and email to the company corporate office for further action. What can I do about this!! I get a 15 to 30 minute break periodically as I’ am required under doctor’s orders to get out of my vehicle walk around and stretch my back and legs because sitting for long hours at a time traveling compounds my lower spine that was injured last Sept. 2014, this injury occurred while “waiting on duty” (unpaid) for my next work site appointment. My road supervisor texted me a message to head to a work site where I was to pick up a client that was very heavy and large. I was not told he had a wheelchair, I called my supervisor who was to busy to get someone to help me load this wheelchair into the back trunk of my car, while trying to load I lost control of the chair because of it’s size and as a result I got injured. I managed to return him home with his wheelchair, because the driver with a wheelchair vehicle was not available. I’ am not required to pick up these type of clients as we have special vehicles for them and drivers. I like my job its great for the older worker. But I need to get paid as any employee should for the long hours worked but don’t. Can this company really do what it’s been doing legally.

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Jill June 27, 2014 at 6:09 am

If I’m asked to travel to a different office that isn’t my typical office and is over 60 miles away do I get paid my hourly rate when I start driving or does it count as my commute time and no pay is given

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kent regelin February 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I work for a company in tade industry. (sprinkler fitter). I drive a company stickered vehicle, (company logo). We, other that work for same company, are required to “give up” 60 miles in the morning and 60 miles at end of day. They say this is your normal commute time. Also, we are to have our phones turned on and expected to be availabe. How are we as field crew suppose to be paid for travel time. We work in Minnesota. Thanks

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jorge gonzalez December 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

If i get paid piecerate (per job). Should i get paid for travel time between job sites? Right now if i drive to multiple jobs and the customer is not home i dont get any kind incentives put in my paycheck.

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eldon December 1, 2011 at 8:54 pm

If employees meet at their bosses house to carpool in company van to job site must they get paid for drive time?

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