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HR Insights: Required Pay for Commute Time?

Are employers required to pay employees for commute time?

HR Insights: Expert answers to common HR Questions

Scenario:

Q : I have an employee who has a habit of challenging our handbook policies, and they are claiming that they are required by law to be paid for their time traveling to and from work. They have to commute for an hour each way; do I really have to compensate them for that time?

Are employers required to pay employees for commute time?


Answer:

It’s time for everyone’s favorite compliance answer: it depends! Let’s unpack this, starting with the requirement at the federal level. According to the FLSA, an employee engaging in ‘ordinary home to work travel’, is not considered to be on work time.

Driving to and from work at the beginning and end of their work day is not considered compensable time, at least on the federal level.

However, there are special circumstances where travel time is required to be compensated


If an employee is given a special assignment to work in another city for a day, and then returns home at the end of the day, that time traveling between home and that city should be compensated.

However, the employer is allowed to deduct the amount of time the employee would normally spend commuting to their regular worksite.


Similarly, if travel keeps an employee away from home overnight, it is considered travel away from home and should be compensated.
Some employees are required to travel during the day as part of their principal activity, such as traveling between job sites. That is also considered work time, and must be compensated.

To sum it up, on the federal level, the regular commute to work isn’t considered work time, and therefore the employee is not required to be compensated for their travel. However, now we get into state law, which if anyone knows a thing or two about state laws, means it’s about to get a lot more complicated.


Take Colorado, for example. Similar to the FLSA, the normal commute is not required to be compensated. However, if the employee has to do any extra travel for the employer’s benefit, like occasionally being called back to work after hours to deal with a work issue, that would be considered time worked. This also includes if during the normal commute, the employees engage in other time worked, such as holding a meeting over the phone while traveling. If it is for the employer’s benefit, it is generally considered time worked and must be compensated in the state of Colorado.


While some states don’t require paying employees for time spent doing their normal commute, there isn’t a blanket rule that will apply to everyone. Some states also have exceptions to that rule, where because of the circumstance, the commute would be considered time worked. You should consult with an HR Professional if you are unsure if travel time should be compensated. If you are a Vida HR client, you should reach out to your HR Business Partner for assistance.

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