Travel Time Is Paid Time, Sometimes
Employment typically requires an employee to commute from home to work, and home again at the end of the workday. Department of Labor regulations interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act recognize that the typical morning and evening commute, referred to in the regulations as home-to-work travel, is not compensable as work time. This is so even if the job regularly requires travel to different job sites rather than a single location.
On the other hand, once a non-exempt employee arrives at an assigned workplace, travel within the workday is a work activity and must be compensated. For example, if an employee is assigned to stop on the way to his usual place of work to pick up supplies or equipment, travel from the designated place to the usual workplace is paid time, as is travel to an assigned stop on the way home.
In addition, the regulations address atypical circumstances when an employee is required to undertake travel beyond the scope of the daily commute, and describe when such travel time must be paid time.
Emergency calls. If an employee who has gone home after completing his day’s work is subsequently called out at night to travel to a customer’s location to perform emergency work, all travel time is paid time.
Single day off-site assignment. The regulations do not regard an employee who regularly works at a fixed location but who is assigned to spend the day at a more distant place as engaged in ordinary home-to-work travel. Instead, the travel is considered work time and therefore paid time, except that the portion of the travel which is the equivalent of the regular commute need not be compensated. The rule is the same whether the extra travel is by car or by public transportation. For example, an employee with a regular place of work in Bridgeport who is given an assignment in New York City for the day is on paid time starting from when she drives her car beyond her regular commute, or when she arrives at the Metro North station.
Overnight travel. Overnight travel is work time when it includes the work day, since travel is in effect a job duty. Under the wage-hour regulations, travel time during regular working hours is paid time, both on weekdays and on the weekend. For example, an employee who regularly works a 9:00 am to 5:00 pm schedule and who travels to the West Coast on Sunday to be available for a business meeting on Monday must be paid for the travel time that occurs during his regular work schedule. If he takes a 3:00 pm flight which arrives at 7:00 pm, he should be paid for two hours of travel time.
Since these regulations apply to non-exempt employees, the take-away for employers is that accurate daily time records must be kept for employees who travel, just as a daily time record is kept for employees who “punch-in” at their regular work location.