SHOULD I BE PAID FOR TRAVEL TIME TO A DIFFERENT TOWN IF I START AT HOME?
QUESTION: I work at a business in the Detroit metro area. Most days, I commute from my home in north Oakland County to our office in the southeast corner of the county, and I understand that I won’t be paid for my travel time to and from work. Every few weeks, however, there is a special morning meeting or event off-site in Detroit, Flint, or Jackson. Because my trip would be even longer if I first reported to work, it makes much more sense for me to start from home on those days. My boss tells me that as long as I start at home, the drive is counted as a regular commute, and I won’t be paid for any of my extra travel time. It doesn’t seem right that on days I have to get up an hour earlier, and drive an hour further to an off-site location, that I shouldn’t receive any extra pay.
ANSWER: Americans spend an average of almost an hour every day commuting to and from work. In 2018, 83 percent of all commuters commuted via car — 77 percent drove themselves to work with another 6 percent riding with someone else. While the percentage of people commuting via car has dropped in recent years, the number of commuters has risen along with the population. And, with that, the average commute time has slowly inched up from 26.6 minutes in 2016 to 27.1 in 2018. A 2019 survey cited in the New York Post found an average commute time by car of 35 minutes, at an average cost of $83 per week (a figure that might be misleading, as it assumes paying tolls).
It’s not surprising that workers would like to receive some kind of compensation for their time getting to and from work. Unfortunately, a worker’s travel time from home to the worksite and back again is not — under federal law — paid time. But when the travel time occurs during the workday itself, or requires travel to a different worksite, there are some exceptions.
Assuming you are an hourly worker, the travel you describe should be paid work time under the Portal-to-Portal Act (an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act). When you have to travel to someplace other than your usual place of business, you are allowed to count the difference between your normal commute time and the travel time to the more distant venue, according to Section 785.35 of the Code of Federal Regulations (a codification of the rules that apply laws).
If your normal commute took you from your home in Troy to Royal Oak, for example, for a rush-hour travel time average of 25 minutes, but you were asked to attend a special meeting in Lansing (with a travel time of an hour and 45 minutes during rush hour) you could ask to be paid an additional hour and 20 minutes for the trip. If you drove from Lansing back to your office after the meeting, the entire trip would count as work time.
Travel time from one job site to another during the workday also counts as time worked — and hourly workers must be paid. For example, time a home health care worker travels from work to the homes of the people she helps, and from one client’s home to the next, is compensable time. But, if she drives straight home after the last home visit of the day, that trip will count as a work-to-home commute and will not be paid.
When you to make an overnight trip for work, traveling by plane, the rules are a little less generous. You can only count hours spent in travel during your regular workday hours. If you work 9 to 5, all travel between those hours — even if it occurs on Saturday and Sunday — must be paid. For example, if you usually work from 8 to 5 and left work at 2 p.m. to catch a 4 p.m. flight, you could only count the time from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. as work time — the remainder of your trip would not count as paid time under federal law. However, time spent traveling from home to the airport counts as regular commute time and is generally not paid time under federal law.
If you travel from home, arriving at the airport at 9 a.m. for an 11 a.m. flight to New York, spend an hour in transit, and then another two hours traveling to a meeting in Manhattan, you should be paid for all your travel time from the time you arrive at the airport to the time you arrive at the meeting. Of course, you should also be paid for your time attending the meeting. However, assuming the meeting ends at 7 p.m., you would not be paid for travel time from the site of the meeting to your hotel, or for non-working time in New York.
Some employers, and some collective bargaining agreements, are more generous, allowing an employee to be paid for all time spent in travel from home to the airport and back again.
Salaried workers are not required to receive extra compensation for travel time, although some employers provide additional pay for such travel.
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By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law