Pay for some travel time is required by law. When an employee must be paid hinges on whether the travel is commuting time or travel time that happens during the workday. In general, an employee has no right to wages or expenses for commute time, although there are a couple of exceptions to this that I address below. Non-commute travel, however, like when an employee has to go from job site to job site during the workday, must be paid. Massachusetts minimum wage regulations provides:
“An employee required or directed to travel from one place to another after the beginning of or before the close of the work day shall be compensated for all travel time and shall be reimbursed for all transportation expenses.” 455 Code Mass. Regs. § 2.03.
So, according to the regulation, an employee should be paid both expenses and wages for required travel during a workday. When an employee is using his own vehicle, expenses should be reimbursed at least at the federal mileage rate (56 cents per mile in 2014). As for the wage component, an employer is able to set a different wage rate for travel, but if an employer is illegally not paying for any intraday travel, the employee’s normal wage rate must be used to calculate back pay.
Employers often do not pay for travel time in certain industries. We have had class action cases against home health aid companies, delivery companies, and landscaping companies, to name a few, for unpaid wages and expenses for travel time.
Sometimes an employer will argue that they do not have to pay for travel when there is enough time between scheduled work assignments for the employee to go home. There is an opinion letter from the minimum wage division that lends some support to this argument, but there are no court decisions confirming it, and the letter seems to go against the plain language of the regulation. Even if the letter offers some support to a defense in some cases, it only pertains to “gaps” between assignments large enough to allow an employee to go home for a meaningful period of time or, more generally, effectively use the gap time for his or her own purposes. So, in the view of the author of the opinion letter, travel where a gap between assignments is about four hours might not be compensable, but wages would have to be paid for smaller gaps.
Now for the exceptions mentioned above: When does one have the right to pay for commute time? There are two common situations. The first is when an employee is required to work from home before traveling into the office (or to another work site). If the work from home is a principal activity, i.e. it is important to the employer, required or known to the employer, and takes more than a minimal time, then the workday starts at home, transforming the subsequent travel from commute time to intraday travel time. The other situation where commute time can be compensable is when an employee must travel to a different work site outside the employee’s normal commuting area.
We handle many wage cases involving travel time. Feel free to get in touch to confidentially discuss your options.