Sometimes, employee travel time is considered hours worked and must be paid and counted towards overtime. Sometimes it's not and goes unpaid. Here's how to tell which is which.
In it's simplest form, any travel done while on duty is paid and any travel done while off duty isn't. Going from one work site to another is on duty, but going to work in the first place is not.
A good rule of thumb is anything an employer requires an employee to do is on duty, but let's get more detailed.
Travel time from home to the first work site of the day is unpaid. An employee is not on duty until they arrive at their work location, so that travel is unpaid. It doesn't matter if the first work site is the company office, or a job site in the field, until the employee clocks in and can start working the travel time is unpaid.
The same is true when an employee is done for the day. As soon as the employee is relieved from duty, whether at an office or from a job site in the field, any travel that occurs afterward is unpaid.
According to the US Department of Labor, any break or rest period that lasts less than 20 minutes, or where the employee is not relieved of all duties must be paid. This means that whether an employee travels during a break period or not doesn't matter, they must be paid either way.
Meal periods are a different story. True meal periods that are unpaid require that the employee is off duty. This means any travel done during that meal period is also unpaid regardless of where the employee goes.
If an employee chooses to travel to the next job site during their lunch break it is still unpaid time. The key here is that the employee chooses to do it. If the employer required them to do it, then it was no longer a choice and therefore the employee was not off duty and the entire meal period must be paid for.
Traveling out of town is a little different. When traveling out of town at the request of an employer, all employee travel time must be paid. The employer can, however, decide to deduct the amount of travel time it normally takes that employee to get to work from the total travel time.
If it takes an average of 20 minutes for an employee to get to work on a normal day, then the first 20 minutes of travel time to another city can be unpaid.
For more information or details check with the Department of Labor. That's where this information comes from, after all. 😁
For more information about on duty, off duty, overtime, travel, breaks and waiting periods, download our "Ultimate Guide to Overtime & Travel for Mobile Workforces" here
This guide covers the federal regulations for the Department of Labor along with the regulations from all 50 states.
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