Wage & Hour Issues: Travel Time
Traveling to and From Work
An employer is generally not required to pay an employee for commuting between home and work.
It does not matter whether the employee works at a fixed location or travels to a different job site each day. The length of the commute does not matter. A court ruled that four hours spent by farm workers traveling to and from the fields in buses provided by the farm were not entitled to payment for their commute.
However, when an employment contract, industry custom or an employer’s practice provide for compensation for travel time, an employer generally must pay employees for traveling.
Some employers, for example, pay employees for traveling to and from a central time clock or walking through an employee entrance, even though the employer is not obligated to pay employees for that time.
When an employee, after completing a normal day’s work, is required to travel from home to perform an emergency job for a customer of the employer, the employer must compensate the employee for all of the employee’s travel time.
If Jane, a computer systems technician, returns home after having worked a full day and is then paged and told to report to a client to fix a computer problem, the employer must pay Jane for the time she spends traveling to and from the client’s location (plus the time spent at the client).
However, an employer is not required to pay travel time to employees who, after completing a full day’s work, are called back to perform an emergency job at their normal workplace.
If Jane were called back at night to fix a problem at her normal work site, her employer would not be obligated to pay for her travel time.
Travel During the Work Day
An employer must pay an employee for traveling from job site to job site during the work day.
Similarly, an employee who reports to a meeting place to receive instructions or to perform other work, including obtaining tools, must be paid for the time spent traveling.
Rules on employees who drive carpools are a bit more complicated.
If an employee drives a vehicle as part of a company-sponsored carpool, the employee should be paid for the time spent driving. In this situation, the employee is caring for the vehicle and storing it, and so the employee is working.
However, if driving a vehicle is for the convenience of the employee and the vehicle is driven to work sites near the employer’s normal commuting area, then the employer does not have to pay the employee for travel time, as long as the employee agrees to this arrangement.
One-Day Assignments in Another City
An employee who travels out of town must be paid for travel time except for time traveling between home and any transportation depot. When an employee travels by limousine, train or airline, the time traveling to the depot to use that transportation service is treated as commuting.
A simple method of calculating the work time for an employee traveling during a single day is to (1) determine the total elapsed time from home to returning home, (2) deduct the time the employee would have spent normally commuting to and from work, and (3) deduct time not worked, such as meals. The balance is time worked, including compensable travel time.
Overnight Travel Away From Home
Under Connecticut Department of Labor regulations, any time spent by a nonexempt employee traveling on behalf of the employer (minus the employee’s normal commute) is compensatory time. That rule would apply to overnight trips within the state.
However, for an out-of-state trip, federal regulations apply. In this case, travel away from home overnight is work time when it cuts across the employee’s workday. During that time, the employee is simply substituting travel for other job duties.
If Joe’s normal workday is from 9 am to 5 pm, and he spends that time traveling, Joe must be paid for his travel time. (That applies even if the travel occurs on a day of the week that’s not a normal workday for the employee.)
If an employee is offered public transportation but instead requests permission to drive a private car, the employer has a choice of either treating the time spent driving the car as work time or paying all but the time the employee would have spent using the public transportation system. If an employee performs work while traveling, he or she must be paid during that time.
A useful formula for calculating payment for nonexempt employees traveling overnight is to (1) add the total travel and work time, (2) deduct sleep time, (3) deduct time for meals and breaks, and (4) deduct the employee’s normal commuting time. The remainder is what you should pay the employee.
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