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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.


Avoid making an FLSA compliance mistake and winding up in court — Download Overtime Labor Law: 6 compliance tips to avoid overtime lawsuits, wage-and-hour Labor audits and FLSA exemption mistakes. This FREE special report will serve as a guide when reviewing your overtime pay policy and double-checking your FLSA exempt employees' status.

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

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.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

jb May 6, 2016 at 8:55 pm

I’d like to know if I should be paid from the time I pick my crew up at the office , then we leave to go to the field we get off at 8 pm but I don’t get them back to the office till 9pm sometimes later but we are clocked out at 8pm I use my own car and pick them up at 130pm but don’t get clocked in till 2pm any help would be appreciated. I do get 20.00 a day for gas but not miles put on my car and sometimes I use more of my own money for gas .


jb May 6, 2016 at 8:50 pm

I’d like to know if I should be paid from the time I pick my crew up at the office , then we leave to go to the field we get off at 8 pm but I don’t get them back to the office till 9pm sometimes later but we are clocked out at 8pm I use my own car and pick them up at 130pm but don’t get clocked in till 2pm any help would be appreciated.


jb May 6, 2016 at 8:52 pm

Plus I don’t get paid for miles put on my car .


Drew April 29, 2016 at 6:51 am

While traveling and working at a out of town remote location my employer makes us meet at hotel lobby and carpool in company provided rental vehicles to and from work. Is this time compensated ?


boomer March 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm

I get picked up in a company truck and we drive an hour or more each way to the jobsite is this time compensable. The company refuses to pay anyone travel time.


Harley Long March 23, 2016 at 10:02 am

I recently just traveled for my company. There was a 2.5hr drive to the airport, 8hr flight to Germany, 4 hr lay over, 6hr flight to Saudi, and 2hr ride to the hotel. 2.5+8+4+6+2= 22.5 hrs. Now after reading this article I lose the hours from driving; but I didn’t assign the flights, so i keep the 4 hr lay over. so takes me to 18hrs of travel pay. Now my employer has a “policy” in which he refuses to pay any more than 12 hours of travel. Is that legally within his grounds to do? Can he just cut me 6 hours?


C.Mayers March 17, 2016 at 4:35 pm

i work 24 hr call, i work away from my shop on a drilling rig offshore or a land based rig, offshore we stay onboard until our services are needed, land is the same ,we usually sleep in our trucks, with our new rate of pay, from salary and daily job bonus to hourly, this company wants to pay us 16 hours a day but charge the customer 24 hours a day, should they have to pay us what they charge the customer?


James kahana March 8, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Hi so I work as a roof and we jump in the company truck at about 7:30 in the morning and drive sometimes two hours just to the jobsite should we be getting payed for these hours


Al March 4, 2016 at 1:54 am

I’am a Limo driver, where I get my assignments via email where to pickup the passenger and where to drop them off (i.e. airport, home, hotel, business). My employer does not pay me for the travel time to pickup the passenger and the travel time after I drop of the passenger. I do not get any wait time which can sometimes be hours (depending on what type of job it is). I only get paid once the passenger is in the car, once they are dropped at their destination. Sometimes I have to drive for hours to pickup a passenger, or drive to my next pickup. I do not get paid for waiting for my next job.

Sometimes I will work 10-14 hours a day but only get paid for 6-8 hours.


Wes February 13, 2016 at 2:11 pm

If im working out of town for 10 weeks in Texas and do not have the option to come home to Georgia during the weekends does me boss have to pay me for the two days im stuck at the hotel? Like a minimum of 8 hours bc I cannot return home?


PAVLO February 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I drive a company truck home so l get that when l start my day l have to clock in at the office via GPS then l start getting paid as an hourly rate. Then l drive 32miles to my job location. My boss told me NYS has a labor law where if the site you work is 38 miles away from the home office then you are allowed a half an hour pay to drive home. I’ve been driving a work van for over twenty years and never heard of such a law. It seams it would not benifit me anyway but I’m looking to find out where this “Law” came from. Can’t find any information on it anywhere.


Steve December 2, 2015 at 7:27 pm

I’m issued a company vehicle and I am dispatched to different locations from my house as it benefits my company. I’m on call from M-F 24 hours. I have to be able to be dispatch within an half and hour to an hour of being called. So I don’t have leisure time. We have an HQ that’s 75 miles from my home. When we are dispatch from home to different sites I’m not compensated travel time. Our company “designate” some of these sites as “home” sites, but we have no presence there. Some instances we work 16-18 hours day, but don’t get travel time home. We were also do not receive 30 minutes lunch. They made us sign a form stating that we know that our jobs sometimes runs long and that we’re are aware we will not get a lunch break. I understand if it was 8 hours, but 12-18 hours is a little ridicolous for not having a meal break.

I feel that they the company is breaking some labor laws here.


jeff October 26, 2015 at 1:03 pm

After i leave my job site at the end of the day with no more setvice calls to attend my employer requires me to clock out at that point even though he requires me to d4ive his vehicle back to the office. Which could be over an hour of drive time. Is this fair ? I feel like im being taken advantage of.

If i could take the work vehicle home that would be different, but that is not the case. I must clock out at the job site, drive sometimes over an hour to return the truck, the keys, set office alarm and lock the office, help?? South fl


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)?


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.


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


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


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.


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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