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Rules of the Road: When Do Employers Have to Pay for Employee's Travel Time?

Employers know that they don’t have to pay an hourly employee for his or her typical commute to the office. But, paying for travel to a different job site or overnight travel presents stickier questions. One of the simplest ways to analyze the situation is to ask the question - For whose benefit is the travel being done? In general, an employer must pay for travel that benefits the employer, but does not have to pay for travel that benefits the employee.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Portal to Portal Act (an amendment to the FLSA), regular travel to and from work doesn’t count as working time, unless the employee actually works en route. Consider the employee who regularly takes the train to work. If that employee performs work during the commute (answers e-mails, checks voice mail, reads reports, prepares for a project, reads company materials related to the job), the employer would be responsible for compensating the employee.

Once at the employer’s work site or office, what happens when the employee is sent to another location to perform work? That time spent traveling is compensable. One way around this is to give employees the option to report to a central location to receive their assignments, supplies and tools or go directly to the job site. That way travel time to either location is not compensable.

Training programs and meeting attendance also present a challenge. Often the employee will inquire if they will be paid to attend a training program. In general, an employer doesn’t have to pay an employee for time spent at training programs, lectures or similar activities as long as they meet the following 4 criteria: (1) The event is outside normal business hours; (2) It’s voluntary; (3) It is not job related; and (4) No work is performed during that time.

Finally, what to do when an employee volunteers to drive other co-workers from the office to their homes? You would need tp ay for that time, because the driver is “working.”

As a bottom line, an employer must count travel that is part of a worker’s daily duties as hours worked because federal and state law considers it “all in a day’s work.” This includes travel to different job sites during the workday or time spent driving from one customer to the next. If it benefits the employer’s business, the employer must pay.

Small business owners are presented with and enter into many questions each day about a number of legal issues. It pays to establish a strong working relationship with a lawyer thow knows and appreciates your business concerns. For additional information and an initial consultation, contact attorney George Bellas at 847.823.9030 Ext: 219 or george@bellas-wachowski.com.