Ask Human Resources: Accounting for Travel Time – To Pay or Not to Pay?

By Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

QUESTION:

I took some of my staff for specialized training in Chicago.     The training was going to improve their skills, but I had to make it mandatory to assure attendance.  We drove to Chicago, leaving on Thursday afternoon it took me 4 hours to get to Chicago, I drove the entire way.    I need to know if I have to pay for the travel time, when they are benefiting from the training.    When the employees submitted their time, they all had different amounts of time credited to travel.  I need to know what time is compensable and if it will it count towards overtime? 

 

ANSWER:

 

The proper and appropriate payment of wages is regulated by the Department of Labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  This law was passed in 1934 and, although still relevant, it had not fully addressed how travel time is to be compensated. To address these questions Congress passed an amendment to the FLSA to address what is considered compensable time when traveling.  It is known as the Portal to Portal Act.

Travel time is compensable if the reason for the travel, the training, is for the benefit of the Practice and/or it is mandatory.

  • If you mandate it, the appropriate time is compensable and/or 
  • If you, as the practice owner, benefit from the training (even if the employee also benefits), the time is compensable.     

Based upon your question, you declared the training mandatory, so any time that meets the criteria above will be compensable.  Now we have to determine when the clock starts and stops.

Let’s start with the time spent driving to Chicago.  This travel pay will only apply to your hourly (non-exempt) staff.  The time that is compensable as a passenger in a vehicle is the time spent traveling during the employee’s normal work hours.  That includes not only hours worked on regular working days, but also during corresponding hours on nonworking days.  For example, let’s say you have an employee that typically works 9 AM to 5 PM.  If you left for Chicago at 1 PM and it took four hours to get to Chicago, you’d arrive at 5 PM.   Those four hours should be paid and considered hours worked, regardless of which day of the week you traveled on.  If, let’s say, you were caught in traffic, and did not arrive until 6 PM you would still only pay that employee for four hours, since they work until 5 PM.   If you left for Chicago after work, then none of the time spent traveling to the training would be compensable.  You would use this same logic to calculate the compensable travel time on the return trip as well.  If your employees don’t all work the same hours, then you will have to calculate travel time on an individual basis.

Now let’s look at the time spent in the training.   If the training is mandatory, then any time spent in the training (regardless of when the training takes place) is compensable.   Going to meals, social events or time spent sleeping does not have to be paid as long as the employee is free from all work responsibilities.  

You need to treat the compensable travel time and training time as hours worked for overtime purposes as well.  So, based upon your established work week, add these compensable hours to the other hours worked during that week, and anything over 40 hours will be paid at time and a half. 

There are additional rules that address air and train travel, and when the driver is non-exempt.  Many of these rules seem odd, but they are the guide we use to assure compliance.   More information is available on the Department of Labor website, under the Fair Labor Standards Act.