When is travel time compensable under the FLSA?
Monday, March 06, 2017
Travel-time issues are some of the most difficult of all hours-worked questions for non-exempt employees. Whether and to what extent travel time counts as hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) depends on the specific facts and circumstances presented.
Below are some broad rules of thumb that apply to the most common kinds of travel. The rules vary depending on whether the travel is (a) local, (b) out of town with same-day return, or (c) out of town with an overnight stay.
Whether to pay a non-exempt employee for his/her travel time for local travel requires you to examine whether the employee’s home or place of work is the point of origin or destination each day.
Employee’s Home as Point of Origin or Destination
Time an employee spends in normal commuting between home and work generally is not compensable time unless the employee is otherwise working during that time.
However, for an employee who drives to and from work in a vehicle provided by the employer, the time is compensable unless: (1) the travel is within the normal commuting area for the employer's business or establishment, (2) the vehicle's use is subject to an agreement between the employer and the employee, (3) the vehicle is not one that imposes “substantially greater difficulties to operate" than the type of vehicle which would normally be used for commuting, and (4) the employee incurs no out-of-pocket or direct costs for driving, parking, or otherwise maintaining the employer's vehicle (such as expenses for gas and tolls) in connection with commuting in employer-provided vehicles unless fully reimbursed.
Employee’s Work as Point of Origin and Destination
Once at the workplace, travel between the workplace (such as an office) and another place of assignment, or travel between one assignment and another during a workday, usually is counted as hours worked.
Example: Todd and Joe maintain and repair equipment their employer sells. Each day, they each drive separately from home to their employer's facility.
Todd checks in to see what their appointments are and gets a truck. Joe helps load up the tools and parts they will need for the day.
They then head out to make their service stops. When they are finished at the final stop, Todd drives back to the facility to unload and turn in the truck before he and Joe go home.
All the travel time from the facility to the first call, between each call, and from the last call to the facility counts as hours worked (except for the length of any bona fide meal period) for both Todd and Joe.
Out of Town Travel with Same-Day Return
Whether to pay a non-exempt employee for his/her travel time for out-of-town travel over a single day also requires you to examine whether the employee’s home or place of work is the point of origin or destination each day.
However, the analysis must also consider whether the employee has a fixed place of work or not.
Employee’s Home as Point of Origin or Destination (Employee Normally Has a Fixed Place of Work)
Travel between home and the place of assignment on a one-day trip to another city by an employee who normally has a fixed place of work counts as compensable time (except for meal periods).
If that employee travels by public transportation, the time spent traveling between home and the departure point (the airport, for example) does not need to be counted as hours worked.
Employee Regularly Commutes from Home to a Variety of Locations
Travel between home and the place of assignment on a one-day trip to another city in a personal vehicle by an employee who regularly commutes from home to a variety of locations counts as compensable time (except for meal periods) to the extent that it unreasonably exceeds the employee’s regular commuting travel.
Travel between home and the place of assignment on a one-day trip to another city by an employee who regularly commutes in a company vehicle from home a variety of distances counts as compensable time (except for meal periods) to the extent that it is outside the normal commuting area for the employer’s business or establishment.
Example: Edward is Executive Secretary to the Plant Manager at The Big Corporation's plant in Bigtown. On Monday, the Plant Manager asks Edward to personally deliver some important documents and work at the home office in Biggertown on Tuesday.
Edward drives to the airport on Tuesday morning, flies to Biggertown, takes a taxi to and from the home office, takes his usual hour for lunch, flies back to Bigtown, and drives home. The Big Corporation has to treat all of Edward's travel time as hours worked, except for his trips between his home and the airport and his one-hour lunch.
Employee’s Work as Point of Origin and Destination
If the employee leaves from the normal place of work rather than from home, the travel between the normal place of work and another city on a one-day trip is hours worked or compensable time (except for meal periods).
Out of Town Travel with an Overnight Stay
Employee Traveling as Driver
If the employee drives any vehicle in connection with overnight out-of-town travel, all of the travel time must be considered hours worked (except for meal periods).
However, if the employee is allowed to use public transportation for the trip but instead drives a vehicle for personal reasons, the employer may count as hours worked either (1) the time spent driving, or (2) the amount of time that would have been considered hours worked if the employee had used public transportation.
Employee Traveling as Passenger
Overnight out-of-town travel as a passenger, whether in any vehicle another person is driving or by public transportation, must be counted as hours worked to the extent that it occurs during normal working hours (except for meal periods), even if the traveling is done on weekends and holidays.
Outside of normal working hours, such travel time does not have to be counted as hours worked if the employee is not otherwise working while traveling.
Example: Ellen normally works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. She is assigned to hand out brochures at The Big Corporation's booth at a trade show in Salestown starting Monday morning.
She leaves her home for the airport at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Her flight takes off at 3:45 p.m., and she arrives at the airport in Salestown at 6:00. She takes a taxi to the hotel and arrives at 6:45 p.m.
She does no work during the trip. Ellen's travel time from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. must be treated as compensable time, but the remainder need not be.
Determining whether to pay a non-exempt employee for his/her travel time is complicated and requires a fact intensive analysis. We recommend that you consult your wage and hour subject matter expert when dealing with such issues.
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