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Paying for travel time: Know the rules of the road

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: Paying nonexempt workers for travel time can be tricky, especially if it involves several work sites or overnight travel.

Risk: Thousands of dollars, or more, in back pay.

Action: Educate yourself about travel-pay rules. When in doubt, don't guess; run it by an employment attorney.

You don't have to pay Joe Employee for his commute to the workplace. That's because, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Portal-to-Portal Act (an FLSA amendment), regular travel to and from work doesn't count as work time unless the employee actually works en route.

But if you require employees to report to a central location for assignments or supplies, travel time from the central site to the job site is considered paid time.

One way to get around that: Give employees the option of reporting to a central location or directly to a job site. That way, the travel time to either place is not considered compensable work time.

You must pay for travel that's a regular part of the employee's daily duties because it's considered "all in a day's work" under federal law. That includes travel to different job sites during the workday or time spent driving from customer to customer.

But what happens if a nonexempt employee travels out of town on a day trip?

Typically, all travel time on day trips counts as paid time (except for meal periods) if the employee travels to another city or job location. But you don't need to pay for travel time between the employee's home and the train station or airport because it falls under the home-to-work rule ... even if travel time to the airport far exceeds the worker's normal commute.

Example: Let's say a nonexempt employee is flying to a one-day seminar. He leaves home at 6 a.m. and drives an hour to the airport. He takes a flight and lands at about 8:30 a.m. It takes him a half-hour to ride a taxi to the seminar site.

The seminar starts at 9 a.m. and lasts until 4 p.m. The employee visits with friends at the seminar until 5 p.m., then travels back to the airport by 5:30 p.m. to catch a 6 p.m. flight that lands at 7:30 p.m. It takes him about an hour to drive home from the airport.

How much time should you pay? Answer: Don't pay the employee for his commute to the airport; that's home-to-work time. Pay him for time traveling in the plane and taxi to the seminar, as well as time spent in the seminar.

You don't have to pay for his time mingling after the seminar, but you should pay for the time spent in the taxi and plane on the way back. You don't have to pay for the drive home from the airport because, again, it's work-to-home time.

For more information on paying for travel time, order a copy of our new special report, Overtime & Other Tricky Pay Issues (NIBM N351), by calling (800) 543-2055 or visiting

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