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Travel time under the FLSA: How do I pay my employees for work-related trips?

This is a tricky question, because it depends on how your employee is "classified" under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Under the FLSA, there are two types of employees: exempt and non-exempt. On the one hand, exempt employees are compensated through a salary and must meet certain criteria to qualify for such a classification. Employers do not need to compensate these employees above their normal pay for travel time.

On the other hand, if you must keep track of hours worked and pay a minimum wage, the employee is non-exempt and there are rules to follow when determining how to compensate these employees for travel time. So, what rules should be followed for compensating non-exempt employees for travel time?

Rule #1: Ordinary commuting time from home to work and work to home is not considered hours worked unless the employee is required to perform work or tasks for the employer during the commute. Regardless of when the travel time occurs, remember that if work is performed during the travel, the employee must be compensated for that time.

Rule #2: If the employee must travel as part of her normal work activity, for example, traveling from one job site to another, that time is considered compensable, unless the employee is traveling from home to an alternate work location within "reasonable proximity" of the office.

Rule #3: If the employee travels for a special assignment to a different city, but returns home the same day, all time spent traveling to and from that city is compensable. It does not matter whether the travel time occurs during the employee's normal work hours and it is not permissible to deduct the time she would normally travel to the office.

Rule #4: If the employee is traveling for an overnight trip, she must be paid for time spent as a passenger that occurs during normal working hours (even if on the weekends) but does not need to be compensated for time traveling outside normal working hours. On the other hand, if she is driving the vehicle, no matter the time of day, she must be paid for the time unless she is traveling from home to the airport.

Rule #5: Sleep time is never considered "hours worked" and does not need to be compensated. This is true, even if the employee is out of town on an overnight trip.

Rule #6:Time spent out of town on an overnight work-related trip that the employee has for her own purposes does not need to be compensated. Specifically, the FLSA provides that if the following conditions are met, the employee is not working and the employer does not need to compensate her.

The employee must:

1) Be completely relieved of all duties and responsibilities;

2) Be told in advance that she is permitted to leave the job;

3) Be told in advance that work will not resume until a specified time; and

4) Have a long-enough time to use the period effectively for her own purposes.

29 C.F.R. ยง 785.16(a). Remember that the above-delineated rules only apply to non-exempt employees. And, every situation is different and must be examined with care to determine which rule applies and how it will affect the employee's compensation. Employers need to take great care in following general guidelines, because different facts could always lead to a different result.

By: Chelsea Long

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