Travel Time As “Working Time” Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

Nonexempt employees are entitled to overtime under federal law if they work more than forty hours in a given week.  Questions often arise concerning which activities count as working hours and which don’t.  One area of frequent dispute is “travel time,” or the time an employee spends getting from one place to another while working.

Daily time spent traveling from home to a single worksite, whether it’s a fixed worksite or one that changes daily, does not usually count as working time, as long as the employee returns home (or is done working and) by the end of the employee’s regular workday and doesn’t have to stay overnight somewhere else.  One exception to that rule is for employees who are called back to work for an emergency after they have returned home or finished working for the day.  Even if the employee doesn’t have to travel out of town for the emergency, emergency post-shift calls to respond to a situation for an employer’s customer (for example, plumbers and HVAC technicians) are considered working time.  If the employee simply has to return to the employee’s regular worksite to respond to the emergency, the employee won’t necessarily be able to claim that travel as working time.

Employees who stay in their hometown during the workday but travel from job site to job site are entitled to count the travel time between job sites as working time.  So employees who work in service or repairs and make calls at homes or businesses must be paid for their time spent going from assignment to assignment.  If employees first have to stop at a central location to pick up tools or receive assignments before going to their first assignment, the time spent going from the central location to the first assignment counts as working time, as does all travel between assignments after that.

This travel time question becomes more complicated when an employee is asked to travel out-of-town.  At the point, the employee will be spending more time traveling than simply going to work and back again.  For a one-day trip out of town, with no overnight stay, most of the time spent traveling from one city to another, and back again, would count as working time.  For example, an employee who works in Des Moines and is told to spend the day at an assignment in Cedar Rapids will be able to count much of the four-hour round-trip as working time.

Employees are also entitled to be paid for their travel time when traveling away from home.  “Away from home” means that the employee has to spend the night away from home because of work.  In that situation, any travel that occurs during normal working hours is considered working time and must be compensated.  Travel away from home that occurs outside the employee’s regular working hours does  not count as working time.  Also, if travel occurs on an extra day, say a Saturday, that the employee normally doesn’t work, all travel that occurs that day during the employee’s normal shift also counts as working time.  So if an employee who normally works a 9-5 shift Monday through Friday is asked to travel away from home on business, all travel time that occurs between 9-5 is compensable, even if travel is on a Saturday or Sunday, days that the employee normally wouldn’t work.

Overtime cases require legal analysis of federal statutes, U.S. Department of Labor regulations, and court decisions.  I can help you with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.

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