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How Is Employee Travel Time Treated Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?


February 19, 2013 by Paul Sullivan
Category: Compensation

When an employee travels to work in the morning and then travels home at the end of the work day, that travel time is not “work time.” But what if the employee, at home after work, is then called back to work? Or if the employee must travel to another city for training? Does it matter if the employee drives his or her own car to an out-of-town assignment? Or if he or she travels as a passenger with a fellow employee? What are the rules?

The rules for determining whether travel time is work time, and thus compensable, for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are set out in nine federal regulations, 29 C.F.R. §§ 785.33 – 784.41, adopted by the Department of Labor. Here are the situations covered by these rules:

Traveling to and from work (the “normal” day) – Traveling from home to work, whether it is at a fixed location or not, and then returning home at the end of the work day is not work time and so is not paid. 29 C.F.R. § 785.35.
Call out or emergency travel – If an employee works a full day, goes home and then is called back to work for an emergency, the travel time to and from the work site is paid work time. 29 C.F.R. § 785.36.
Special one-day assignment in another city (going to training) – If the employee is sent to another city for a one-day training course or on a special assignment, the travel to and from the other city is considered paid work time, as it is conducted for the employer’s benefit. However, the amount of time that would normally be spent traveling to and from the employee’s regular worksite can be deducted from the out-of-city travel time. 29 C.F.R. § 785.37.
Travel “all in a day’s work” - The travel of an employee during a regular workday, from one location to another to perform his or her job, is paid work time. 29 C.F.R. § 785.38.
Overnight travel away from home – Travel away from home overnight is considered paid work time only when the time cuts across the employee's regular workday or, when not during the regular workday, if during the same hours on a non-workday or if the employee travels by car and is the driver. On the other hand, if the employee travels by airplane, bus, train, or as a passenger in an automobile, the travel time is only paid if it occurs during the employee’s regular work hours. 29 C.F.R. § 785.39. (The employee, of course, would also be paid for the time spent in training or on assignment, less meal periods.)
Employee drives own vehicle instead of using public transportation – If an employee is offered public transportation for work travel but decides to drive his or her own vehicle instead, the employing agency can either treat as paid work time the driving time or the time the employer would have had to count as hours worked during working hours if the employee had used the public transportation. 29 C.F.R. § 785.40.
Worked performed while traveling – If an employee actually performs work while traveling in public transportation or as a passenger in a vehicle, the time worked is paid work time. 29 C.F.R. § 785.41.

About Paul Sullivan

Paul has worked with local governments since 1974 and has authored MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operation. He also provides training on the Open Public Meetings Act.

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