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When Must Employers Pay for Travel Time?

May 30, 2008

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The general rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is that employees aren't entitled to compensation for travel time that isn't "a principal activity or integral or indispensable to those principle activities."

But what does that mean for your workplace? Whether employee travel time is compensable under the FLSA involves a case-by-case analysis, but here are a few rules of thumb that may help you evaluate whether your employee should be paid for his "time on the road."

Learn more about travel time pay and other wage and hour issues in the Wage and Hour Compliance Manual

Travel to work or work site
Home-to-work travel is generally not compensable. But travel from a central work location to an outlying work site often is. Generally, if any work is engaged in before traveling to a different location, then the travel time is compensable. For instance, employees who arrive at a central location to load equipment and receive assignments before departing for outside work must be paid for their travel time to the outlying location. Conversely, travel time isn't compensable if the employees arrive at a central work location to be transported to the work site, but no work whatsoever was performed before their departure.

One exception to the general rule that ordinary home-to-work travel isn't compensable is the emergency callback situation. If an employee is called back to work for an emergency, travel time from his home to the work site is compensable and he must be paid for that time.

Travel to another location
If an employee is occasionally required to travel to another work location, that time may be compensable. For instance, you learn that you will be short-handed at another facility and you require an employee to travel two hours away to fill in at another work site. Because this isn't ordinary home-to-work travel and was required by you, the employee must be paid for the additional time spent traveling that day.

HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including overtime and FLSA requirements

Overnight travel
If an employee is required to travel away from home, all time spent traveling during regular working hours (regardless of the day of the week) is compensable. For example, an employee is required to travel to a distant city and will be gone overnight. She leaves on Tuesday morning, travels half the day, begins work at 1:00 p.m., and works until 5:00 p.m. On Wednesday, she works from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and then boards a plane to return home. That employee is entitled to pay for all working hours and all travel time during those working hours. The travel time after 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, however, isn't compensable under the FLSA.

Is it compensable?
When determining whether travel time is compensable, you need to think critically about whether the employee's travel time is principal to your goals or integral or indispensable to those goals. To assist with that determination, here are a few general rules.

Travel time may be compensable if:

  • work was engaged in before travel time or the employee was transporting necessary tools or equipment as he traveled;
  • special assignments required additional travel time to other locations; or
  • travel occurred during regular working hours (regardless of the day of the week) for an overnight stay.

Travel time may not be compensable if:

  • the employee was traveling from home to work;
  • time spent traveling occurred after regular working hours and involved an overnight stay; or
  • travel from a central location to a work site involved no activities or tasks that furthered your goals.

HR Hero Line article: Primer on travel time pay for workers

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Copyright 2008 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC. WEST VIRGINIA EMPLOYMENT LAW LETTER . WEST VIRGINIA EMPLOYMENT LAW LETTER should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only. Anyone needing specific legal advice should consult an attorney. The State Bar of West Virginia does not certify specialists in the law, and we do not claim certification in any listed area. For further information about the content of any article in this newsletter, please contact any of the editors.

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