Non-exempt employees traveling for business purposes must be compensated for certain aspects of traveling. Let’s consider Joe, a hypothetical non-exempt employee, not qualified to be exempt from the FLSA’s wage and overtime rules. Joe is a technician whose normal work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
He is directed to go to New York on Friday to meet with a customer for a meeting on Saturday. He takes the 5:45 flight on Friday. During his flight he prepares notes for his meeting. Arriving in New York Friday evening he goes to his hotel where he does another hour of preparation work. Joe gets up Saturday morning, meets with the customer at 700 a.m. and returns to his workplace in Detroit by noon that day.
How should Joe have been compensated? According to the FLSA, some but not all of Joe’s trip must be compensated.
Let’s start on Friday:
Joe has to travel to the airport to catch his 5:45 p.m. flight. Since he will have to go through security he leaves for the airport at 3:00 p.m., arrives at the airport by 3:45 and works his way to the airline gate by 4:30 to make his 5:45 flight. Up to 5:00 p.m. he is on the clock; but at 5:00—the normal end of his workday—he is off the clock provided he is doing no job-related work. Rule: An employee must be paid for travel time which falls within the normal work day.
But then, during his flight, Joe takes out some paperwork with information needed for his meeting the next day, and he prepares some notes for it. This takes a half-hour. He also does some additional preparation work after he arrives at his hotel putting in another hour of work. The time he spends working during his flight and at the hotel is compensable. Rule: If work is performed during off hours, travel or not, an employee must be paid for that work.
What about the other time spent getting from the airport to the hotel, checking in, etc. is that compensable time? Any non-business meal periods, sleeping time and time when the employee is free to do activity that is not work related (event though caused by a work need) is non-compensable. Rule: All travel time is not necessarily compensable.
Joe’s meeting is at 7:00 a.m. An Uber car picks him up at the hotel at 6:30 a.m. This travel time to the customer’s site is outside the normal work day for Joe, which means it is not compensable time. Rule: As outlined above, for overnight trips travel that is outside the normal workday does not have to be compensated.
Joe arrives at the customer’s offices right at 7:00 a.m. for the meeting. Is the meeting time, though outside of Joe’s normal work hours, compensable? Yes, it is. Rule: Work time is compensable regardless of when the work occurs while traveling.
The meeting concludes at 9:15 a.m. and Joe heads immediately to the airport to catch the 11:30 flight back to Detroit. Is Joe’s time traveling to the airport, going through security, getting a lunch before he gets on the flight and then getting on his flight and traveling to Detroit compensable? Yes, it is. Rule: travel that cuts across the normal business day is compensable.
What about his early lunch at the airport? Rule: Meal periods while on out-of-town business are not generally compensable, assuming they are at least a half-hour in length and no work is performed during the meal.
Joe arrives back in Detroit at 1:30 p.m. He gets his car that was parked at the airport and then drives to his office to drop off his laptop computer and write down some notes to make sure he doesn’t forget any important information. All of this time is compensable. Rule: All time spend traveling across the normal workday that is a principal part of the activity of the position, even though a Saturday, is compensable.
Joe leaves his office at 3:30 to travel home. This time is not compensable. Rule: Time spent traveling from job to home and back again is considered non-compensable home to work travel.
Joe has now put in a 49.5-hour week, having worked Monday through Friday, one and one-half hours on Friday evening and eight hours on Saturday. (7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. minus one half-hour for lunch equals eight hours). Joe is therefore eligible for time and one-half pay for time worked in excess of forty hours this week. Rule: All time that an employee works in excess of 40 hours in a workweek must be paid at time and one-half the employee’s regular hourly wage.
Keep in mind that this example is for overnight travel. Other rules apply if travel is not overnight.