California HR

5 Basic Rules for Understanding Travel Pay in California

Experts say travel pay disputes – from business trips and mandatory off-site training to commuting time, waiting time, and on-call time – could fuel an enormous surge in lawsuits filed by workers in 2012 and beyond. Why? Many employers haven’t updated their workplace policies in recent years to keep up with changing federal and state guidelines. Rising gas prices (and falling paychecks) have forced more employees to focus on their out-of-pocket expenses, and disagreements over travel pay typically fall within the wage/hour realm – making them a highly attractive target for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Even for experienced supervisors and HR managers, travel pay standards can prove very confusing. The rules change quickly, based on whether workers are commuting or traveling on assignment, whether they’re driving their own cars or company vehicles, and whether they’re exempt or non-exempt. Plus, some states have their own rules for travel pay and expenses that don’t always match the federal guidelines.

In a CER webinar titled “Travel Pay in California: What You’re Required to Pay for When Employees Are on the Move,” Kristine Kwong outlined when travel time is compensable in California and gave us 5 basic rules for understanding when travel pay is required.

Understanding Travel Pay in California: When is Travel Time Compensable?

When, exactly, is travel time compensable? To answer this, you must understand that the key issue in many instances is “whether or not the employee is actually engaging in travel as part of their employer’s principal activity or, are they doing it for the convenience of the employer? If they are traveling as part of their principle activity, then, in many cases, it is considered work time.” According to Kwong.

When it comes to understanding when travel pay must be given in California, it’s important to know the differences between the federal and state laws. Remember: when both federal and state laws exist on a specific topic, the law which is more favorable to the employee will govern.

At the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the primary law governing travel pay. The standard asks whether the employee’s time is spent primarily for the benefit of the employer. It also includes time spent, even if not doing work, but under the control of the employer, such as on-site, on-call time. In California’s labor code, the standard comes down to whether the employee is subject to the control of the employer, and the concept of “control” is narrower than federal standard. While the federal and state laws overlap, California’s labor code is generally more liberal and more protective of employees.

5 Basic Rules of Travel Pay

Here are 5 basic rules to understanding travel pay:

  1. “Commuting time from an employee’s regular place of work each day is not work time, so employers do not have to pay employees for this time.” Kwong explained.
  2. “If an employee spend time traveling to a location for a special assignment, or spends substantial travel time for an emergency outside your normal work hours, that time that’s spent traveling during regular work hours is considered part of their principal job duties.” Travel in these circumstances or outside of normal work hours is compensable work time.
  3. If an employee reports to a central location to pick up equipment before proceeding to his or her assigned worksite, the time spent traveling to the central location is not work time. The time spent traveling to the assigned worksite is work time.
  4. Overnight travel or travel away from home is always work time under California law. Under federal law, it is work time only when it cuts across the employee’s normal workday and/or requires the employee to work on weekends or days when he or she would not otherwise be required to work.
  5. Regular meal periods and time spent sleeping or in other leisure activities while traveling is not work time, and the employer does not have to pay the employee for this time.

To register for a future webinar, visit CER webinars.

Kristine E. Kwong, Esq. is a partner in the Los Angeles office of law firm Musick, Peeler & Garrett, LLP. ( Her practice includes the drafting and updating of handbooks, policy manuals, codes of conduct, and severance packages, and she regularly produces and presents training programs for employers on current issues of employment law.

  • shane

    Hi there,

    I did a job that was 100 miles away each way.
    200 miles return a day.
    I provided transportation to my 3 employees in my truck so they could commute together( using carpool) and paid for the fuel for the entire week with them taking turns driving. This truck did not transport any equipment or tools needed and was only used for transportation for employees.
    We started work from 8 am to 3pm most days for another contractor.
    Am i required to pay them additional travel time and if so how much am i supposed to pay.
    This was a prevailing wage job from 8am to 4pm.

    Best regards,

    Shane pipeline contractor.

  • Had Youmans

    I have an employer which sends me to other cities in ca and only pays travel one way and unless an actual 8 hours on the job the travel time is at a lower rate and certainly no travel time to get back home, that is my personal time spending up to three hours of travel back from the job and do not get paid for. Don’t know if this employer is twisting things to meet his needs but the three hours in paid travel just doesn’t seem morally right

  • Noel

    I recently ran in to an issue with an employer.

    For this temp company, we are to report at 7:30am at a staging area where a bus will take us to the work site.

    My understanding is well get paid at 9am till 4pm. Then have to wait for the company bus to transport us back to the staging area where we can then get our personal vehicles and leave.

    My understanding is that if your required to report somewhere at a required time, then you are on the clock.

    Am I correct or am I wrong?
    The 1 hour travel time in the company bus each way should be paid or un paid?

  • Kristopher Young

    I am currently living in the Inland Empire. I work as a vacation sales relief rep for a food distributor out of Ontario, CA. I travel all over Southern CA for my employment. Holding this position is drive time pay acceptable or is there a rule of thumb as to how many miles driven before clicking in is allowed statewide?


  • Joe

    Question I work for a company in AZ they get job sites in CA. The employer wants to pay our commute 75 miles after we have been on the road. Is this the law or Is the employer trying to save money?

  • keenan

    My employer has me driving anywhere from 95 miles to 130 miles one way to work on different sites my shortest commute has been an hour and a half one way to two and a half hours one way am I entitled by law to any compensation

  • Don

    Can an employer in california make you clock out so you can go get materials for the employer? She makes us clock out and use our own vehicle for parts or material runs

  • Ed Barry

    My employer has employees arrive at our home office in Chula Vista, often times gathering supplies for the work which will be done daily at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA. The employees leave the home office in vans and travel to that job. This has gone on for a decade. When the job is 50 miles away my employer pays travel pay. My employer states that it is only 48 miles to the gate at Camp Pendleton. Well the job site is not at the gate, the work is being done 5 miles further inside the gate at the Navy’s LCAC site. Should these employees receive travel pay? I feel these employees are all being taken advantage of.

  • hugo

    I’m being sent to work for a week an hour away. Does that hour of travel get counted as an hour of work? according to my supervisor its not, but my hour back is. It makes no sense.

  • Julie

    I went to the PIHRA conference and my employer will reimburse me for mileage. Is the mileage calculated from my home to the conference or from my workplace to the conference?

  • jay

    I’m leaving for Malaysia in a week. my employers HR says that travel time does not equal out 1 to 1. 1 hour traveld to one hour worked. I am an hourley employee. and i will be traveling 42 hours 19.30 to get there and 23.20 on the return flight. do i get compensated for that time 1 to 1

  • Dee

    I hope somebody can explain this to me this is the law in California
    I get assigned to show up at a different locations every day and end the day at a different location job sites every day.
    My company policy
    Significant Additional Commuting Time ( Travel Time )

    For functions or activities requiring commuting time of more than 30 minutes, work time should be started after 30 minutes.

    • As an example, if an employee leaving home first thing in the morning proceeds directly to a designated location on the other side of the city which will require a one hour drive, the first 30 minutes is non-paid commute time and the second 30 minutes is paid time.
    • In this example, if the same employee leaves the job site one hour from his home, the first 30 minutes is paid travel time. The last 30 minutes to their home is considered non-paid commute time.
    • If the commute time is not in excess of 30 minutes, no additional time should be added to work hours.

    • Although not required by most state or local laws, “Significant Additional Commuting Time” will be recorded as “working time.” It will therefore be counted towards daily or weekly thresholds requiring overtime pay (i.e., the hours are counted towards an employee’s 40 hours of working time in a week or 8 hours of working time in a day).

  • Pasquale Stagles

    I had traveled to China and Israel for the last few months, and each time I travel for work I am told I can only claim 6 hours a day for International travel. Is this company keeping within State and Federal laws.

  • Communications Manager

    I am working as a contractor. My primary work location is MY OWN HOME. However, my firm sent to me to work on-site at a client’s offices for three weeks, which is an 85-mile drive in EACH direction in L.A. traffic. Needless to say, a daily commute was not possible, so I ended up booking an inexpensive motel room for each night of my three-week stay. I am also spending a small fortune in meals (away from home) and mileage for my car. I asked my firm to cover my travel expenses, but they declined, saying they were not obligated to do so (I live in California). So, I had to cover all of my own costs, which left VERY LITTLE in net pay for this project. In all my years of doing this, I have never known any company to refuse to pay an employee’s work-related travel expenses. What are my options here? Is my company required to cover my travel costs? Help!

  • Durrell

    I have an employer that on any given day I could work 10-12 hours including travel time but the travel time is not being applied to daily OT, so end of week I could work 50 hours and have no overtime. Is this correct

    • Renee Campbell Tierney

      Hi Durrell, did you ever get an answer to this? If so, would you please share it with me as I have the same question.

  • Diane

    I work as a merchandiser. I get paid once I arrive at the first store. One windy day I was traveling from one store to another and my car was hit by a big piece of wood (wind caught it from a truck) I asked my company about paying for the damages since I was on company time. Or at least pay my deductible. They have been avoiding my emails. Any help on this?

  • Kim Stevenson

    I have an hourly employee getting ready to take a business trip in the company vehicle to another location for one week. Does his hourly rate change?

  • Luke

    Can an employer require you to stay at a coworkers home during a business trip instead of paying for a hotel room?