Rules of the road

Oct 31, 2016

When does travel time become paid time? If you don’t know the answer, you might need to check in with the U.S. Department of Labor and dust off your policy manual.

It is alarming to see how many companies have inconsistent travel time policies for their non-exempt employees, or no travel time policy at all. These same companies have varying definitions of what is considered “worked” or “paid” time.

How do you define compensable time in the following scenarios:

  • Employee who reports to the main company location, and then gets into a company provided vehicle to drive to the work site.
  • Employee who drives directly to the job site from his/her home.
  • Employee who drives between client locations throughout the normal business day.
  • Employee who travels out of town for training, or to attend company sponsored events.
  • Employee who travels out of town to visit with clients.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, all hours worked must be paid. Depending on the circumstances all of the following may be considered hours worked: waiting time, on-call time, rest/meal period, sleeping time, lectures, meetings, training, travel time, home-to-work travel, home-to-work on a special one-day assignment in another city, travel all in a day’s work, and travel away from home community. Any time an employee is “engaged and waiting” to work, he/she must be paid. Examples include driving from the main location to the work site, driving between work sites, eating lunch while continuing to answer phones, and waiting at the airport to board a plane during normal business hours.

Time spent by an employee “waiting to be engaged” is not considered work or paid time. Examples include travel to/from home to the main location of business, when on-call without any restrictions to go about personal matters so long as employee can be reached via message, and waiting to board an airplane outside of normal business hours. Knowing the rules surrounding work time helps to determine when travel time becomes paid time.

Time spent away from the main location of business is considered travel time. The DOL indicated that a typical problem in the construction industry is that employers fail to pay employees for travel from the shop (main location of business), to the work-site. Based on my observations, this problem is not limited to the construction industry. Currently the DOL has not provided guidance on how much an employee has to be paid for travel time, other than at least minimum wage must be paid for hours worked. Keep in mind that if an employee is paid at two different rates in the same work week (one rate for time spent working on the job versus time spent traveling), the regular rate of pay (used for calculating overtime), will need to be calculated. As you can tell, this can be a slippery slope so let’s walk through a few scenarios:

Scenario No. 1. John Green reports to the shop (main location of business), every day before going to the job site. Every day he arrives at least 15 minutes before his 6 a.m. start time so he can read over the work order for the day, and gather any additional supplies needed for the job. He takes his personal vehicle to the job site so he can drive directly to his son’s sporting event immediately after he is finished working at 3:30 p.m. John normally takes a half hour lunch each day; however, sometimes he will eat his lunch as he waits for the delivery truck arriving with more materials. John will need to be paid as follows:

  • All time worked (including travel time), between 6 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
  • Paid for the time he waits for the delivery truck, even if it is during his normal lunch time.
  • Paid for the 15 minutes or so that he arrives early to prepare for the day.
  • Paid for any time that is in excess of his normal travel home, since he is leaving directly from the work site to the sporting event.
  • All travel time is considered work time and must be counted towards overtime, should he work in excess of 40 hours the week he traveled.

Scenario No. 2. Stan Smith was asked if he wanted to attend a company sponsored event that was out of state, to which he accepted. The conference was on Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon. His flight to the event was Sunday evening at 7 p.m. and his flight home was on Wednesday at 3 p.m. He was invited to a networking event Monday evening, while it was not mandatory he was highly encouraged to attend. Stan will need to be paid as follows:

  • Sunday he will need to be paid for any time traveling during normal working hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday he will need to be paid for the time spent at the conference.
  • He will need to be paid for the time spent at the networking event because it was not voluntary and it is job related.
  • He will need to be paid for all travel time on Wednesday during normal working hours including travel time from the airport to his home (less his regular travel time from the main location of business to his home).
  • All travel time is considered work time and must be counted towards overtime, should he work in excess of 40 hours the week he traveled.

You might need to dust off your old travel time policy and visit the DOL at

Kristi Weierbach is the HR/payroll advisory services manager at Stambaugh Ness. She can be reached at

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