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Travel Time Under the FLSA

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), there is no black-and-white rule for determining when travel time is compensable—it all depends upon the type of travel and when it occurs.  The regulations interpreting the FLSA don’t provide much clarity either, stating that travel “all in a day’s work” must be counted as compensable hours worked.  29 C.F.R. § 785.38.  Not surprisingly, this vague terminology offers little guidance to most employees.  What if the employee is called back to work after returning home for the day? What constitutes “hours worked?”  As a general rule, the commute between an employee’s worksite and home is a “normal incident of employment” and thus is not compensable “working time” under the FLSA.  But, of course, many exceptions apply, and it is important for employees to be aware of circumstances when such travel is compensable.

Here are a few quick examples:

• Work-related duties while commuting. The travel time between home and work is compensable if an employee is required to perform work during the commute (picking up supplies on the way to work or reporting to a meeting place, for example) that must be counted as hours worked. When that happens, the employee is considered to be “on the clock” when the initial work-related duty begins.  29 C.F.R. § 785.38.

• Emergency jobs. If an employee is required to travel “a substantial distance” to perform an emergency job after the employee has completed the day’s work, the travel time to and from the work site is compensable. 29 C.F.R. § 785.36.

• Out of town travel. Travel time is also compensable when employees are given special one-day assignments in another city.  For example, an employee that regularly works at a fixed location in Columbus will be compensated for travel time if required to make a one-day trip to Cincinnati.  This does not fall under the ordinary home-to-work rule, as the trip is performed the employer’s benefit and at the employer’s request.  However, the time that the employee normally spends commuting to and from their regular worksite can be deducted from the out of town travel.   29 C.F.R. § 785.37.

Source: Ed Zaleqski, When does a commute become paid working time? (Oct. 14, 2014)

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