A few weeks ago, we provided some guidelines on how to deal with employees whose jobs require them to travel away from their office during the regular work day and how to determine whether their travel time is or is not compensable. That post dealt with situations where employees leave from and return to their homes on the same day and drive to various locations in the same metropolitan area. How are situations handled where the employee travels out of their home city and returns on the same day? What if the employee is required to stay out of the city overnight?
The regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor, implementing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), deal with these situations (29 C.F.R. sections 785.37 and 785.39) for hourly non-exempt employees.
What if an employee who lives and works in Los Angeles is assigned to travel to San Francisco to attend a business meeting and return home the same day? The time the employee spends driving from home to the airport is considered non-compensable commute time. However, compensable time begins when the employee arrives at the airport and ends when the employee returns back to and leaves the airport in Los Angeles at the end of the day. The employee’s normal meal period, if normally “off the clock,” would also be unpaid in this situation as long as the employee is totally free from any work activities.
The same would be the case if an employee who lived and worked in San Diego was sent to Los Angeles for the day by train for a work-related activity. The employee’s drive time from home to the train depot would be non-compensable commute time but the time from arrival at the train depot to Los Angeles and then back again to the San Diego train depot would be compensable with the exception of an unpaid meal period.
What if an employee is sent out of the City overnight? Say for example an employee who lives and works in San Francisco is sent to Sacramento for a two-day meeting at the office of a state agency. The employee decides to drive a personal vehicle. The FLSA regulations do not specify how to deal with this sort of situation where the employee uses his or her own car. The best practice would be to treat the drive time between San Francisco and Sacramento as compensable but only to the extent that it exceeds the employee’s normal commute time between home and work. The employee’s work day would end in Sacramento whenever the meeting ends that day and the employee would remain off the clock for the balance of the day and overnight as long as he or she was totally free from any work-related activities. The employee would go back on the clock the next morning on arriving at the meeting site and continuing until the employee arrives back in San Francisco that afternoon or evening, again netting out an unpaid meal period and the normal commute time between the employee’s regular work place and home.
These questions can be intricate and your employment law counsel should be consulted if you have any questions about how to handle employee travel time issues. Of course, these examples only apply to hourly non-exempt employees; employees who are truly exempt as professionals, administrative or executive employees are salaried and therefore, these concerns are not applicable to them.