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Should hourly worker get paid for travel time?

By Roni F. Noland
November 9, 2008
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Q. I am an hourly employee. My employer is requiring me to travel from home to Florida and Georgia for seminar trainings. The travel requires me to be at the airport at 4, attend a seminar till 9 p.m. on Friday and from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and then fly home. How should I be paid? What meals am I entitled to? What about child-care arrangements for my daughter? My hotel and airfare is provided by my employer but nothing else has been negotiated.

A. As an hourly employee, you will be entitled to overtime pay for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours in any given week. How your hours are determined during the time that you are attending the seminars is a little tricky, as it involves travel time. The travel time that occurs during your regular work hours is "counted," which means you are paid for that time; the travel time that occurs either before or after your regular work hours does not count as actual hours worked.

Let me explain further: During the weeks you are required to attend the seminars, I assume that you will still be working your regular hours, 9-5, Monday through Thursday. You would be paid your regular salary for those days and for your normal work hours (9-5) on Friday, even though the seminar itself does not start until noon. For the training seminars, you would start earning overtime pay after 5 p.m. on Friday. You would earn overtime pay for the 5 to 9 p.m. Friday night sessions, and for the 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday seminar sessions.

It is likely that some meals would be included as part of the seminars. For the meals that are not included, reimbursement is left up to the discretion of each employer. Many employers have a detailed, written travel expense policy. Check with your boss and/or human resources for that information. Some employers offer a per diem, which is a fixed amount of money allowed per day to defray the cost of food and incidentals. Policies vary on the amount of the per diem; and/or whether travel costs to/from the airport are covered. If they are not covered, perhaps you can make arrangements to carpool or share a cab with your co-workers to help defray your costs.

You would not be considered "on the clock" going to/from the airport, and you would not be paid for the time that you spend traveling that occurs outside of your regular work hours. According to both state and federal law, ordinary travel time between home and work is not compensated and is not considered time worked. Federal law requires that hourly workers are paid from airport to airport if — and only if — the round-trip travel occurs on the same day, said Robert B. Gordon, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP.

If you are concerned about your expenses, you can try to negotiate additional coverage for future seminars. Both you and your employer should be committed to enabling you to attend these seminars.

Roni F. Noland is a career counselor/coach in private practice. She can be reached at noland.roni@gmail.com. E-mail questions to jobdoc@globe.com or mail to Job Doc, Boston Globe, Box 55819, Boston, 02205-5819.

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