Labor Department Provides Guidance on Compensating Employee Travel Time

The Labor Department, Wage & Hour Division, issued an Opinion Letter earlier this week answering questions about the compensability of travel time for hourly technicians under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The technicians did not work at a fixed location or a fixed daily schedule. They worked 8 to 16 hours per day at various locations. Sometimes they stayed in hotels overnight or traveled out of town for training courses. The employer provided technicians company vehicles, which they could use for both work and personal purposes.

The company requesting the opinion presented three scenarios to the DOL as follows:

  1. A technician travels by plane to a different state on Sunday to attend a training class on Monday. The class runs all week and the technician flies home on Friday, or Saturday if no Friday flights are available.
  2. An technician travels from home to his or her home office and then on to the jobsite. All of this travel is conducted in the assigned company vehicle.
  3. Hourly technicians drive from home to multiple different customer locations on any given day.

The opinion began by summarizing the key legal principles in play, including the general rules that employers do not have to compensate employees for time spent commuting to and from work, but they do have to compensate employees travelling from job site to job site. It also explained that when an employer asks an employee to travel out of town, such as for training, the general rule is employers must compensate employees if the travel time “cuts across the employee’s work day.” In other words, if an employee regularly works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, then travel time during this same period on a Saturday or Sunday must be compensated. The DOL then applied these principles to the scenarios posed above.

Clock and Suitcase with Map in the BackgroundAs to scenario one, the DOL focused its response on employees who do not have a regular work day/work schedule. The DOL advised employers to analyze employee time records to determine their “typical” work hours/schedule. If the schedule is so erratic that there are no normal work hours, the employer should calculate an average start and end time. Travel time that cuts across those typical hours should be covered. If an employee truly has no normal work hours, another option would be to negotiate a reasonable amount of time to compensate the employee for travel outside the employee’s normal commute. The DOL also noted that travel time to and from a hotel to a work site or training location would be treated like an ordinary commute and would not need to be compensated.

As to scenarios two and three, the DOL found these were not special cases and the normal commuting rules discussed above apply. Thus, when an employee must travel to a work place to pick up his assignments and/or tools and then travel on to the actual jobsite, he should be paid for travel between the office and assigned jobsite. However, employers do not need to pay for the time spent travelling between the employee’s home and the office. Use of a company vehicle does not in and of itself make a normal commute compensable.

The Opinion Letter is primarily targeted at those employees who have irregular or frequently changing work schedules. Employers must analyze each situation on a case-by-case basis to identify what are actual hours worked (and then, of course, ensure that they are properly recorded and paid). There is no change to the basic tenet that normal commutes to and from work are not compensable. Providing a reasonable, justifiable reason for what travel time is compensable vs. non-compensable is vital to ensure compliance with the FLSA and provides a solid defense to any rogue wage claim.

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