How should we pay nonexempt employees when they are traveling on business?

Q. Our sales team travels around the country for client pitches and various project meetings. Some members of the sales team are nonexempt. While flying, some staff perform work on their computers, while others relax or listen to music. Are we required to pay employees for travel time even if the employees are not working?

A. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforce­­ment addressed this issue in an opinion letter from 2002. The DLSE explained that California employers are required to pay nonexempt employees for the time they are traveling for business purposes—even if the employees are not actively engaged in work while traveling.

The DLSE stated, “time spent traveling to and from a business meeting or other event where attendance is required by the employer constitutes hours worked, whether or not the travel takes place during regular work hours, and whether or not the business trip includes an overnight stay.”

Compensable travel time includes time spent as a passenger on transportation, buying a ticket, checking baggage and boarding the transportation. This is because the employee is subject to the control of the employer during those times, whether he or she is working on his or her computer or reading a book.

Note that, under California law, employers may establish different hourly rates for travel time as opposed to regular work time. The travel time pay rate must meet minimum wage requirements, and an employee must be notified of the travel pay rate before the travel occurs.

FLSA Compliance D

Employers may also want to note that these rules differ from the requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which are more favorable to employers.