Paying employees for travel

Fair Labor Standards Act lays out the rules


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It is generally understood that an employer is not required to compensate employees for ordinary home to work travel. But when must an employee be paid for travel that is not part of his or her typical commute? It’s a question many businesses struggle with, especially as travel has become more and more a necessary part of many employment positions.

There are generally four circumstances outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when an employer must pay employees for travel time.

First, an employer must compensate employees for travel time in certain emergency situations.

For example, if an employee who has gone home after completing his or her day’s work is later required to travel a substantial distance to perform an emergency job for his or her employer, the employee must be paid for all of that travel time. However, the employer is not required to compensate the employee for travel time if the employee is only required to report back to his or her regular workplace to perform an emergency job after returning home for the day.

Second, an employee must be paid for time spent traveling as part of a special assignment outside his or her normal workplace.

Suppose an employee who regularly works in Manchester from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is asked to report for a special one-day assignment in New York with instructions to depart Manchester on a 7 a.m. bus. The employee arrives in New York at noon, the assignment is completed at 3 p.m. and the employee returns to the Manchester bus station at 9 p.m.

In that case, the employee must be paid for all travel time, except for the time spent traveling from the employee’s home to the bus station, which would be considered ordinary home-to-work travel. The employer may also deduct for a usual meal time.

Third, an employee who travels as part of his or her typical workday must be paid for that travel time. 

This would include the travel time spent by an employee required to report to a designated location or jobsite to receive instructions, perform work or pick up tools. In addition, if, for example, an employee who normally finishes work at 5 p.m. has to travel to another jobsite and then is required to return to the regular workplace arriving at 9 p.m., he or she must be paid for all of that travel time.

However, in that scenario, if the employee goes straight home from the jobsite at 8 p.m., the time spent traveling home would be considered ordinary home-to-work travel for which the employee need not be compensated.

Fourth, when an employee is required to travel away from home overnight, the employer must compensate that employee for all time spent traveling during the employee’s normal working hours.

This includes time spent traveling during regular working hours on nonworking days. For instance, if an employee who regularly works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, is required to travel overnight, returning home on a Saturday, then the employee must be paid for all time spent traveling on that Saturday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. An employer is not required to compensate employees for time spent as a passenger on an airplane, train, boat, bus or car that is outside of regular working hours.

While the laws surrounding what constitutes compensable travel time do not account for every situation in which an employee is required to travel as part of his or her job, at a minimum an employer must pay for travel time under the circumstances mentioned above.

FLSA regulations can be complex. Important information can be found on the website of the U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov), but for unusual circumstances, consultation with counsel may be required. 

Alexandra Geiger, an attorney in the Employment Law Practice of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, can be reached at 603-628-1483 or alexandra.geiger@mclane.com.

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