HR Basics: When Do You Have to Pay Your Employees For Travel Time?

By Eric B. Meyer

Let’s start this post off with a disclaimer:

I’m going to address travel time under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Many of you folks live in crazy states, like New York, that have more lenient state versions of the FLSA.

I’m not giving any advice about state laws or local laws. Heck, I’m not giving any legal advice at all. The blog’s general disclaimer applies with equal force to this post.

A few examples of how travel time works

Now, let’s get to it…

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  1. On Monday, our President traveled from one customer’s job site to another. Must we pay her for the travel time? Well, since your President is probably an exempt employee, she doesn’t get paid by the hour and doesn’t qualify for OT. You’re paying her a salary regardless of travel time.
  2. On Tuesday, Non-Exempt Nancy commutes from home to work. Do we have to pay her for travel time? Probably not. (See note) According to this FLSA fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor, “an employee who travels from home before the regular workday and returns to his/her home at the end of the work day is engaged in ordinary home to work travel, which is not work time.” No work means no pay. (Note: If Nancy performs administrative tasks at home such that she is not relieved from duty long enough to enable her to use the time for her own purposes, then the travel time from home to work may be compensable. Similarly, if Nancy were required to return home immediately after work to complete administrative tasks, the drive time home may be compensable.)
  3. On Wednesday, Non-Exempt Ned goes to the office, and then visits a customer. Is the travel time from office to customer compensable? Yes, as that sounds like travel that’s all in a day’s work. Time spent by an employee in travel as part of their principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, is work time and must be counted as hours worked.
  4. On Thursday, Non-Exempt Nora, who usually works in Noodleville, must instead work in Needleburgh on a special one-day assignment. Needleburgh is much further from Nora’s home than Noodleville. Do we need to pay Nora for any, some, or all of her travel time? Well, according to the Labor Department, it depends: “An employee who regularly works at a fixed location in one city is given a special one day assignment in another city and returns home the same day. The time spent in traveling to and returning from the other city is work time, except that the employer may deduct/not count that time the employee would normally spend commuting to the regular work site.”
  5. On Friday, Non-Exempt Nick has to take an overnight trip out of town on business. What then? When Nick is traveling during his regular working hours, he gets paid. Nick also gets paid during non-working hours, except when Nick is a passenger on an airplane, train, boat, bus, or automobile.

Something for your handbook

Remember that if, in a particular work week, adding the compensable travel hours to the non-exempt employee’s other working hours equals a number greater than 40, you must pay your non-exempt employees overtime (time and a half) for those hours worked in excess of 40.

Now, go back and check your employee handbook. Do you have a travel time policy? If not, strongly consider adding one.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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