If an employee who typically works a Monday through Friday schedule, travels out of town on a Sunday to attend a training that will be held on Monday, is the employee entitled to be paid for the time he/she is out traveling? This great question from a customer highlights a perpetual issue for employers: What is compensable working time under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
Determining hours worked and compensable time can be one of the FLSA’s most headache-inducing issues. Specific details can affect compensable time determinations, and the existing regulations and guidance seem to create greater confusion in some cases.
Compensable time issues continue to be litigated, including disputes involving time spent donning and doffing safety gear — an issue the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to address in the coming months. Some basic rules of thumb, however, can help employers sort through compensable time questions, and possibly evaluate if they need additional help before they run afoul of the FLSA’s provisions.
Generally, commuting time is not considered compensable. The Portal-to-Portal Act excludes time spent traveling to the location where an employee’s principal activity is performed from compensable time. However, time spent traveling for work purposes to other locations may be compensable depending on the circumstances.
The general rule is that employees should be compensated for all travel unless it is overnight and outside normal working hours and on a common carrier (plane, train, bus, etc.) and where no work is done. However, there are special rules for special situations. Travel time for out-of-town trips is complicated.
Disgruntled employees continue to file lawsuits dealing with compensable time against employers. Because the rules that determine whether a specific chunk of time spent by a specific employee can be complicated, employers might want to err on the side of caution and favor compensating employees for time spent traveling to far away trainings. However, if that is not an option, consulting an attorney to make sure your compensable time determination is correct may be the next best defense. At a bare minimum it is worth reviewing your time policies to guard against potentially expensive and prolonged litigation.
For more analysis of this and other compensable time questions, Thompson customers should consult HR Compliance Expert.