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When You Should Get Paid to Travel for Work

a male construction worker wearing a hard hat and safety vest, driving a vehicle for work.

Your time has value — including travel time.

Is travel part of your job? For many employees, the answer is "yes," whether that's every day or merely an occasional special assignment. You deserve to be paid for all your work hours, and that includes travel time that is part of your job.

The general rule is that your regular home-to-work commute is your time and does not have to be paid. However, there are many circumstances in which travel for work is considered work time and thus needs to be paid. If you are a non-exempt employee and your employer is not paying you for travel time, then you may have a claim for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, or both. An experienced wage and hour lawyer can advocate for your rights in this situation.

Travel during your workday is paid time.

If you travel from job site to job site during your working day, then your employer is responsible for paying you for that time — including overtime if applicable. You are only responsible for your regular home-to-work commute. Any travel during the workday beyond that is part of your job, and it should be paid like any other part of your job.

Understanding the "special assignment" rule

Again, your regular home-to-work commute does not have to be paid, but if your employer gives you a one-day "special assignment" that requires a longer commute, you do need to be paid for the additional travel time.

For example, suppose you live and work in Columbus, and your usual commute is about 15 minutes. For one work day, your employer sends you to a satellite office in Cleveland, a two-hour drive away. Your employer is required to pay you for the additional hour and 45 minutes you spend commuting to Cleveland on that day.

Rules for paid travel time during overnight business trips

Pay for travel time is more complicated for business trips lasting more than one day. First, your employer is required to pay you for any travel time that cuts across your regular working hours — even on days when you do not usually work. For example, if you typically work Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you need to catch a flight for a business trip on Sunday and have to arrive at the airport at 2 p.m., then you should be paid for the three hours between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Travel time for an overnight trip outside your regular work hours does not generally have to be paid if you are relieved of all your work duties and able to travel as a passenger (meaning you are effectively free to use the time for your own purposes). But the law defines "relieved of all work duties" quite strictly; if you're doing any work for your employer while traveling, then you should be paid for that time. Some examples include:

  • You perform work tasks during your travel time, such as working on a presentation on the train or taking a work call at the airport.
  • You are "engaged to wait" for any work tasks that may arise during travel. For instance, a direct care worker who travels with a client and is expected to be available to help the client as needed during the trip should be paid for that time, whether or not the client actually needs assistance on a given trip.
  • Your employer requires you to drive, for instance, to transport supplies or personnel, or because you are required to have a vehicle with you at the destination.

Talk to an experienced wage and hour lawyer about your unpaid travel time.

By law, you should be paid for all hours worked; if travel is part of your job, that includes travel time. An experienced attorney can determine whether your unpaid travel time is a violation of the wage and hour laws and explain your legal rights and options. Nilges Draher LLC has a strong track record in these types of cases, including a $4.9 million settlement for a class of construction workers who were not paid for travel time. If you believe your employer is violating wage laws, give us a call or contact us online today.

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