Drive time for work refers to the time spent traveling during working hours for work purposes. It’s not the time spent going to and from work. That’s commuting and employers don’t have to pay for that.
Many employers mistakenly believe that since you don’t have to pay employees for drive time to and from work, you don’t have to pay them while they’re driving at all. It’s as though driving anywhere for work is all one big commute. This is a mistake. And a very common one too.
One of the top 10 wage and hour mistakes employers make is related to travel time. Some employers factor drive time out of overtime calculations. Others don’t pay employees for drive time at all. Neither is the correct and legal practice.
Employees who travel from job site to job site during a normal day’s work need to be paid for that time. However, they do not need to be paid when they leave the last job site, under most circumstances.
Examples of Paid Travel Time
- Doing work while flying in an airplane
- Doing work on a bus or light-rail on the way to work
- Picking up work equipment at the beginning of the day and then driving to the job site (Pay should start from the time they pick up the equipment)
- Work errands like driving to the bank, picking up equipment, etc.
- Driving from one work site to another
Examples of Paid Commute Time – Rare Exceptions
While most of the time travel from home to work is not compensable, there are some exceptions. These include:
- Home to work in emergency situations
- Home to work on a special one-day assignment in another city
- Work performed while commuting
Additionally, California applies another exception. Employees in California who must take their employer’s transportation should be paid for the time they spend waiting for and riding that transportation. An example might be brewery or ski resort employees who have to park far away and wait for a company bus to pick them up. They should be paid for that time. To learn why, see the California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog.
FLSA Notes on Drive Time
This is how the commute is defined in the FLSA:
There are some “grey areas” about when the FLSA requires travel time to be treated as working time. However, as a general rule, “home to work” and “work to home” travel time is not work time, and this is true even if the “commute” is longer than normal, to or from a different work site than normal, or the employee uses a company vehicle for the trips. This assumes that the employee is performing no other work activities while commuting.
This is how travel time is defined in the FLSA:
Time spent by an employee writing a report is work time, even if it happens to occur while the employee is riding on a bus (or airplane) to or from work. Travel time which is “all in a day’s work” is work time. Usually, this means that travel time is work time if it occurs between when the employee first arrives at the first work site and before the employee leaves the last work site at the end of the work day.
The first work site is the place where the employee first performs work activities. For example, an employee who travels to the office, picks up equipment, then goes to a work site to perform the day’s activities is working from the time s/he first arrives at the office. Picking up the equipment needed to do the day’s activities is the first work activity of the day, and therefore the office is the first work site of the day.
Tracking Different Rates of Pay for Travel Time
Employers are free to set a lower pay rate for travel time as long as it is at or above minimum wage. It’s complicated to track multiple pay rates for a single employee. That’s why using a time tracking service that supports variable rates is useful for employees who travel.