When calculating the appropriate pay for travel time of employees, how do you determine when travel time is compensable and when it is not? For example, when must you pay for commuting time? What about overnight travel—which hours are compensable?
When answering these questions, the first key issue to consider is whether an employee is engaged in travel as part of the employer’s principal activity or for the convenience of the employer. If so, then that time is probably compensable in many cases, because it’s considered "work time." Of course, there are many other specifics to consider. In a recent BLR webinar, Mark E. Tabakman outlined for us five basic rules for calculating when to pay for travel.
5 Basic Rules for Calculating Correct Employee Pay for Travel Time
Basic Rule 1: The time employees spend commuting to and from their regular place of work each day is not work time, so employers do not have to pay employees for this time. "What’s important about this is that it doesn’t matter if the site of the first place of employment changes from day to day." Tabakman explained. "The distance doesn’t matter either, except in very, very special circumstances."
Basic Rule 2: Work time does include time spent traveling to another location for a special assignment, substantial travel for an emergency outside the normal working hours, and time spent traveling during regular work hours as part of the employee’s principal job duties.
Basic Rule 3: If an employee reports to a central location to pick up equipment before proceeding to his or her assigned worksite, the time spent traveling to the central location is not work time. In this case, this travel to the central location falls under basic rule 1 – commute time to the first place of employment for that day. However, in this type of situation, then the time spent traveling from the central location to the assigned worksite is work time.
Basic Rule 4: Overnight travel or travel away from home is work time (thus requiring employers to pay for travel time) when it cuts across the employee’s normal workday and/or requires the employee to work on weekends or days when he or she would not otherwise be required to work.
For example, Tabakman explained, "if my hours are 9am to 5pm, I’m a non-exempt employee, and my employer makes me take a 2pm flight, then the travel time from my home to the airport, all the time waiting at the airport (delays, weather, what-have-you), the flight time, and the travel time to the hotel (or wherever I’m going) all becomes compensable time. [If it's the] same scenario, [but] you make the employee take a 7pm flight (2 hours after the end of their normal shift, 9-5), then none of that time that I just enumerated is compensable time." That said, remember that state laws may differ from federal law and your state may have stricter employer obligations.
Basic Rule 5: Regular meal periods and time spent sleeping or in other leisure activities while traveling is not work time, and the employer does not have to pay the employee for this time.
For more information on calculating employee pay for travel time, order the webinar recording of "Employee Travel Pay Explained: Wage & Hour Road Rules for HR." To register for a future webinar, visit http://catalog.blr.com/audio.
Attorney Mark E. Tabakman is a partner in the nationwide law firm Fox Rothschild, LLP. He advises clients throughout the country on all aspects of labor relations and employment law, as well as the development of corporate employment policies.