Travel Time: Are You Entitled to Be Paid?

Travel time is the time an employee spends in transit for work. Are employees entitled to be paid for travel time? It depends on the reason for the trip, the employee's usual work hours, and whether the employee stays overnight for work.

Commuting Time

Employees don’t have to be paid for the time they spend commuting from their homes to their worksites or back home again at the end of the day. However, employers have to pay for travel time that’s part of the job. For example, if employees are required to go out on service calls, the time spent traveling to and from the customers must be paid. Also, if employees are required to take employer-provided transportation from a central location to the worksite, this time may have to be paid. And, even an employee whose job does not ordinarily involve travel may be entitled to pay for travel time if the employee is required to come to the workplace at odd hours to deal with emergency situations.

Learn more about Wages and Hours.

One-Day Business Trips

An employee who goes on a one-day business trip must be paid for the time the employee spends traveling. However, the employee doesn’t have to be paid for the time it takes the employee to get to the airport, train station, or other transportation hub. That time is categorized as unpaid commuting time, even if it takes the employee longer than his or her ordinary commute to the worksite.

Example: Laurie lives in Albany, California, and works in San Francisco. Her commute takes about 1/2 hour each way by bus. Laurie's employer sends her to Los Angeles for a business trip. She leaves home at 6 a.m. to catch an 8 a.m. flight. She spends all day with a customer in Los Angeles, then dashes off to the airport to catch her 6:30 p.m. flight, which lands at 8 p.m. Laurie arrives home by 9 p.m. She is entitled to be paid for 12 hours of work; the time she spends commuting between her home and the airport is considered unpaid commuting time, even though it's quite a bit longer than her usual commute.

Overnight Trips

When an employee spends more than a day out of town, the rules are different. Of course, the employee is entitled to be paid for all of the time actually spent working. However, whether the employee must be paid for time spent in transit depends on when the travel takes place.

Employees are entitled to pay for time spent traveling during the hours when they regularly work (the period of the day they regularly work), even if they ordinarily work Monday through Friday but travel on the weekend. For example, if Laurie usually works 9 to 5, and leaves the office at 3 p.m. to catch a flight for an overnight business trip,s he should be paid for the two remaining hours in her day, but not for the rest of the time she spends traveling that evening. But if Laurie returns home on a 10 a.m. Saturday flight that takes four hours, she is entitled to be paid for all of that time. Even though she traveled on the weekend, the flight took place during her ordinary hours of weekday work.

Learn more about Taking Time Off Work.

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If your employer hasn't paid you for travel time, you might consider consulting with an employment lawyer.

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