Business owners often get confused as to whether they need to pay employees for travel time. The answer depends on the nature of their employees’ travel.
This article provides businesses with a simple and effective guide as to when to pay for employee travel time, and when not to. But first, a real world example of what happens when an employer gets it wrong: time tranforms into money and pain.
FLOORING COMPANY LEVELED BY THE US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Mota’s Floorcovering Inc. in Riverside, California required workers to travel each day to and from work sites, including out-of-town assignments. However, the company did not always count travel time correctly and compensate the time as hours worked. In addition, the employer failed to include compensable travel time for overtime wage calculations, and did not keep accurate time records, in violation of the FLSA.
Enter the US Department of Labor (DOL). After an investigation, Mota’s Floorcovering paid $229,357 in overtime back wages and $229,357 in liquidated damages to 127 workers. The company paid an addiitonal $23,749 penalty to the federal government.
DOL PRESS RELEASE WARNS EMPLOYERS
“Employers that require workers to travel to and from work sites as part of their daily routines should take note of this case to avoid a common, but easily preventable labor violation,” said Gayane Aleksanian, assistant district director for the Wage and Hour Division in West Covina. “We are glad that Mota’s Floorcovering acknowledged the issues and stepped up to remedy the situation immediately.”
HERE IS THE LAW ON TRAVEL TIME IN A NUTSHELL
The principles which apply in determining whether time spent in travel is compensable time depends upon the kind of travel involved.
Home to Work Travel: An employee who travels from home before the regular workday and returns to his/her home at the end of the workday is engaged in ordinary home to work travel, which is not work time.
Home to Work on a Special One Day Assignment in Another City: An employee who regularly works at a fixed location in one city is given a special one day assignment in another city and returns home the same day. The time spent in traveling to and returning from the other city is work time, except that the employer may deduct/not count that time the employee would normally spend commuting to the regular work site.
Travel That is All in a Day’s Work: Time spent by an employee in travel as part of their principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, is work time and must be counted as hours worked.
Travel Away from Home Community: Travel that keeps an employee away from home overnight is travel away from home. Travel away from home is clearly work time when it cuts across the employee’s workday. The time is not only hours worked on regular working days during normal working hours but also during corresponding hours on nonworking days. As an enforcement policy the DOL will not consider as work time that time spent in travel away from home outside of regular working hours as a passenger on an airplane, train, boat, bus, or automobile.
Determining whether to compensate employees for travel time is relatively easy using the above-referenced guidelines. If, however, you encounter a travel time situation which does not fit the proverbial mold, contact counsel, get it right, and avoid the fines, penalties, and grief suffered by Mota’s Floorcovering.
Art Bourque has guided businesses and individuals in various FLSA matters, including pay for travel time cases. Contact Mr. Bourque with any questions regarding these or other employment or human resource issues.
This HR Law Insider song about the joys of Going Mobile is one that I enjoyed often while travelling throughout the Northeast on construction jobs many Moons ago: