Q. One of our executives will be making day trips once a week to New York from Washington, D.C., for a special assignment, and her secretary will be accompanying her. The secretary's regular workday is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The trips will require the secretary to arrive at the airport by 7:30 a.m., and she'll be back in Washington by 8 p.m. Do we have to compensate the nonexempt secretary for her travel time to and from New York? —L.L., Washington, D.C.
A. Yes. In general, time spent by an employee in travel as part of the employer's principal activity must be counted as hours worked. While ordinary home-to-work travel is not usually compensable, the Labor Department takes the position that because the travel you describe is for the employer's benefit and at its request, the travel is part of the “principal activity” of the employer and the employee must be compensated.
Note, however, that not all the travel time must be counted as hours worked. Labor specifically permits the employer to exclude the travel time between the employee's home and the airport as “home-to-work travel time.”