Thursday, November 16, 2023

Do you understand the rules for paying employees for commuting time?

A technician claims her employer owes her pay for time spent traveling to the office to pick up materials on the way to the airport for a flight to visit a customer. According to the employee, the employer only begins paying at the departure time of the scheduled flight.

Is this employee correct? Must an employer pay for that travel time? Is she owed wages for time spent commuting to the airport (including the time spent traveling to the office to pick up the samples)? Or does the law permit the employer to start the pay clock when she boards the flight?

Generally speaking, employees are not paid for time spent traveling between home and work. It's called the continuous workday rule.

Under that rule, an employer is not required to start paying an employee until that employee performs the first task "integral and indispensable" to the job.

Thus, time spent traveling between an employee's home and worksite usually is not compensable working time. Time spent traveling as part of the principal work activity, such as travel from job site to job site or between customers, however, usually is compensable working time.

Which brings us back to the example of our technician. I'd argue that under the continuous workday rule time spent driving to the office to pick up materials is uncompensated non-working time, even if (as this employee alleges) the company prohibits her and all other employees from bringing any materials home. It's no different than any other daily commute to work on any given workday.

Once the employee arrives at the workplace, however, the workday begins. Any time spent thereafter, including time spent traveling from the office to the airport, should be counted and paid as compensated working time.

We'll have to watch and see how this plays out, as I've borrowed these facts from a just-filed lawsuit.

What do you think? Can you craft an argument that the time spent traveling to the office in this case is compensable working time? Make your best case for or against in the comments below, or jump over to LinkedIn and join the conversation there.