When Do You Have To Pay For Commuting Time?

Most of us know we don’t normally have to pay employees for the time they spend on their regular commute from home to our place of business and back. However, there are circumstances when some or all of an overtime-eligible employee’s daily travel time might be compensable. If you encounter one of these situations but don’t pay them for their time (including potential overtime), you could open yourself up to liability.

Situation #1

George normally commutes to your home office, but you’ve asked him to work in a branch office in a nearby town for the day to cover for an employee who’s out sick. Is his time commuting to the branch office compensable?

Probably — at least part of it. Since under normal circumstances, George would have had to travel from his home to your main office, only the portion of his time traveling that exceeds the length of time he would spend on his normal commute is compensable.

For instance, if it normally takes him 15 minutes to commute to the office, but it takes him an hour to drive to the branch location, he should be paid for an hour and a half of commute time. (One hour drive time less 15 minutes equals 45 minutes of extra commute each way, or one and a half hours total.)

In another example, if George takes the train to the branch location, he would not be paid for the time spent traveling from his home to the train station and back as that would be considered a substitute for his regular commute, but he should be paid for all the time he spent on the train coming and going.

Situation #2

Oliver is going to be conducting a training session at a client’s office. You ask him to come in to the office first thing to go over his materials one last time and make sure everything is in order. After meeting with you, he drives to the client’s office. At the end of the day, he comes back to the office to review the results of the training session with you before heading home. Is his travel time compensable?

Partially. The time he spends traveling between home and your office is not compensable, as it’s simply his regular commute, but the time he spends traveling from your office to the client’s location should be paid. If instead of returning to the office, he had instead proceeded directly home from the client’s office at the end of the day, only his morning travel to their office would be paid. His evening travel time from their office to his home would have been considered a regular commute and would not need to be paid.

Situation #3

Betty has gone home for the day when an emergency situation arises. Personnel on-site call her, and she tries to talk them through the solution but it quickly becomes apparent she needs to come in. Is the time she spends traveling to the office (and heading home again after the crisis is averted) compensable?

Again, probably. The Fair Labor Standards Act stipulates that if an emergency arises after the end of the employee’s regular workday, and the employee must engage in “substantial” time traveling to deal with the situation, the time is compensable.

Your Next Steps

If you have overtime-eligible employees who regularly engage in travel or commutes other than simply traveling to and from your office from their homes, you should consult with your employment law attorney to make sure you’re paying them properly — and make sure you’re tracking their time. Check out our online time clock, AcroTime, which allows employees to clock in and out where ever they have Internet access (even using a smartphone) and includes a telephony option. It’s ideal for recording time for a mobile or remote workforce.

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