WORKPLACE LAW -
Pay for Travel Time?

Question:

I have employees who sometimes go off site for work assignments. We also send our employees to out of town or out of state conferences or meetings from time to time. Do we have to pay our employees for driving to our customer’s homes? If we pay for the employee to attend a meeting or conference, do we also have to pay them for the time they are there?

Answer:

Under California law and the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders, “hours worked” means the time during which an employee is subject to the control of the employer. Compensable time includes all of the time the employee is “suffered or permitted” to work, whether or not required to do so. When a non-exempt employee’s time is subject to the control of the employer, the time constitutes “hours worked.”

With the exception of travel from home to work and back, most travel time is considered work time, and non-exempt employees must be paid for their travel time. When a non-exempt employee is required to report to a work site other than the regular site, like a customer’s home or business, and the employee goes directly to that site without first going to the regular work site, the employer must pay the employee travel time for any time in excess of the employee's normal commute time to and from the regular site. In addition, if the employee travels during the workday to customer’s homes, the travel time is work time and is compensable. Also remember that non-exempt employees are entitled to meal and rest periods, so it is important not to schedule your employee’s appointments so close that they do not have time to take their meal and rest periods. Because travel time is considered on duty time, the employer cannot count that time as a meal break, even if the employee eats while traveling.

Under state law, if an employer requires a non-exempt employee to attend an out-of-town conference or meeting, the employer is obligated to pay for the employee’s time in getting to and from the location of that meeting or event. Time spent driving, or as a passenger on an airplane, train, bus, taxi, car, or other mode of transport, in traveling to and from an out-of-town event is compensable time, because the employee is subject to the employer’s control. Additionally, the time the employee spends waiting to purchase a ticket, check baggage, or get on board is also compensable time. However, time spent taking a break from travel in order to eat a meal, sleep, or engage in purely personal pursuits not connected with traveling or making necessary travel connections (for example, spending an extra day in a city before the start or following the conclusion of a conference in order to sightsee), is not compensable.

If travel time results in a non-exempt employee working more than eight hours in the workday, or forty hours in the workweek, the employee must be paid overtime. The employer can pay the employee a lower wage for travel time, as long as the employee is paid at least the minimum wage (currently $8.00 per hour) and is informed of the different pay rate for travel before the travel begins. For purposes of determining the regular rate of pay for overtime work under the circumstances where a different rate is applied to travel time, the State of California adopts the “weighted average” method for calculating overtime.

Accurate record keeping is crucial if your non-exempt employees spend time traveling on business or working off site. Employers should require employees to keep accurate time cards or time sheets recording their travel time and time spent in conferences or meetings. Although the travel time rules are complex, accurate record keeping can assist you in complying with your obligation to pay non-exempt employees for travel time.
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