Travel Time Should Be Paid Work Time

By travel time, here, we mean travel during working hours for work purposes; we don’t mean travel time spent going to and from work. The time it takes us to get to work is on our own dime. The time it takes us to drive around for our employers should be on their dime (with a few exceptions – see below).

So, what types of travel occasions should employees be paid for? Allow me to clarify.

Many employers have extrapolated the fact that you don’t have to pay employees for their drive time to and from work to the incorrect idea that you don’t have to pay employees while they’re driving at all. This is a mistake! And a very common one too.

One of the top 10 wage and hour mistakes employers make is related to travel time. Employers either pay employees a different rate for travel time (which is fine as long as it is at or above minimum wage) and then factor it out of overtime calculations, or they don’t pay employees for travel time at all. Neither is the correct and legal practice.

Employees who travel from job site to job site during a normal day’s work, need to be paid for that time. However, they do not need to be paid when they leave the last job site, under most circumstances.

Examples of Travel Time That Must Be Paid

  • Getting work done while flying in an airplane
  • Doing work on a bus or light-rail on the way to work
  • Pickup of work equipment at the beginning of the day and then driving to the job site (employee would be paid from the time they pick up the equipment)
  • Work errands like driving to the bank, picking up equipment, etc.
  • Driving from one work site to another

This is how the FLSA defines it on their website:

There are some “grey areas” about when the FLSA requires travel time to be treated as working time. However, as a general rule, “home to work” and “work to home” travel time is not work time, and this is true even if the “commute” is longer than normal, to or from a different work site than normal, or the employee uses a company vehicle for the trips. This assumes that the employee is performing no other work activities while commuting. Time spent by an employee writing a report is work time, even if it happens to occur while the employee is riding on a bus (or airplane) to or from work. Travel time which is “all in a day’s work” is work time. Usually, this means that travel time is work time if it occurs between when the employee first arrives at the first work site and before the employee leaves the last work site at the end of the work day. The first work site is the place where the employee first performs work activities. For example, an employee who travels to the office, picks up equipment, then goes to a work site to perform the day’s activities is working from the time s/he first arrives at the office. Picking up the equipment needed to do the day’s activities is the first work activity of the day, and therefore the office is the first work site of the day.

While most of the time travel from home to work is not compesable, there are some exceptions. These include:

  • Home to work in emergency situations
  • Home to work on a special one-day assignment in another city
  • Work performed while commuting

More information on these and other exceptions can be found here.

Additionally, California applies another exception. If you are in California and your employer requires you to take their transportation, then employees should be paid for the time they spend waiting for and riding that transportation. An example of this might be employees of a brewery or ski resort who park in the far lot and wait for a company bus to pick them up. To learn why, see the California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog.)

Bottom line: Employers must pay their employees for travel time. Employers are free to set a lower pay rate for travel time, though, as long as it is at or above minimum wage. An employee does not have to make $20/hr while driving! Although, if it is set too low, employees might not be too happy and turn over rate may be high.

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