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Do Employees Get Paid for Travel Time?

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Stefan Schumacher

There are certain questions in employment law that get asked again and again. One of them is whether employees get paid for travel time and how is travel time defined?

With some caveats, the answers are fairly simple. (We are assuming the question relates to non-exempt employees because salaried employees are paid a fixed salary no matter how much travel time is involved).

If an employee is traveling from home to the office and back, that travel is not compensated as a well established norm of employment law. There are a few exceptions, as pointed out on a state employment website.

Of course, the law being what it is, there are some notable exceptions. For example, if the employer requires, as a job requirement, that a large company truck be taken home by the employee, that might change the equation in some instances. Also, if the employee does work at home to start the day, the "commute" might simply be an extension of the workday which had already begun.

If an employee starts his workday by traveling straight to an alternate work site other than his normal work site, the U.S. Department of Labor states:

An employee who regularly works at a fixed location in one city is given a special one day assignment in another city and returns home the same day. The time spent in traveling to and returning from the other city is work time, except that the employer may deduct/not count that time the employee would normally spend commuting to the regular work site.

The Department of Labor and settled employment law dictate that employees who travel away from home for work purposes should be compensated for their travel time.

Travel that keeps an employee away from home overnight is travel away from home. Travel away from home is clearly work time when it cuts across the employee's workday. The time is not only hours worked on regular working days during normal working hours but also during corresponding hours on nonworking days.

Companies that rely extensively on employee travel often set up more detailed and extensive policies relating to compensation, spouse or "significant other" travel, frequent flier miles and other issues. Often, the companies award employees with significant travel responsibilities with a few extra benefits to compensate for all the time away from home.

In other words, absence makes the employee handbook grow thicker.