February 19, 2013
FLSA and employee travel time: Must company pay wages for mandatory bus rides?

A Houston company requires employees to ride a company bus to and from their jobsite.  Should the workers be paid for their travel time?

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What happened. “Joseph” joined S&B Engineering and Construction Services, a Houston-based firm, as a journeyman electrician at a Motiva petrochemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, in December 2010. S&B required all employees at that location to park in a designated lot 7 miles from the plant and take a company bus to the facility. The bus ride took approximately 20 to 30 minutes each way. The parking lot and buses were considered extensions of the jobsite subject to Motiva’s rules of conduct, which prohibited fighting, littering, smoking and possessing weapons, among other things.

After 1 year on the job, Joseph left S&B and filed a class action lawsuit alleging the company’s mandatory busing policy violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to compensate workers for their travel time. Joseph argued that the busing arrangement was subject to the FLSA because the company derived an economic benefit from it; workers were considered to be “on the worksite” and subject to Motiva’s work rules during the commute; and the bus rides were “integral and indispensable” to working at the plant.

A district court dismissed his case, finding that the fact that a busing scheme is mandatory “does not per se render such travel time compensable.” In addition, the court found that the rules of conduct applied during the commutes and any benefits derived from the program were not related to the principal activities of the job. Joseph appealed.

What the court said. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, upheld the dismissal, finding that S&B’s mandatory busing arrangement involved “normal traveling time that the laborers would also be required to undertake by the mere fact of working at the Motiva Plant,” which is not compensable under the FLSA.

The court noted that the S&B workers did not perform any work before the start of their shifts and did not receive work-related instructions before or during the bus rides but were free to read or sleep while riding. They retrieved and returned their tools at the plant while on the clock. In addition, the court noted that the FLSA specifically mentions “riding on buses between a town and an outlying mine or factory” as an exempt activity. Griffin v. S&B Engineers, 5th Cir. Appeals Court, No. 12-40382 (1/11/2013).

Point to remember. As far as the FLSA is concerned, the workday starts when an employee begins principal work activities such as receiving job instructions, loading tools, or traveling from one jobsite to another. Ordinary commuting is not subject to wages under the Act.

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