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Travel expenses on the job - who should have to pay?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  March 16, 2011 10:00 AM

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Q. I have a good friend who works as a construction supervisor. As part of his job he is required to drive from job site to job site during the day. His employer used to offer gas cards to all supervisors but recently revoked them as part of a cost cutting effort. Since he is no longer reimbursed for gas, is he entitled to reimbursement for mileage at the standard IRS rate? His employer says "No"; I'm wondering if there are any legal obligations?

Again, this is not mileage from his home to job sites (which I assume is just considered normal commuting) - it's mileage between job sites during the work day. Any insights on this would be much appreciated! Thank you.

A. Even with Skype, webinar tools, phone, and emails, there are still a number of jobs which require travel to multiple locations during the work day. As the price of gas continues to climb, we can expect more questions about what is considered business mileage, whether or not it will be reimbursed by employers, and at what rate.

Employers and employees are best served when details regarding important employment practices are in writing. Everyone needs to have visibility into what the employers practice is regarding business mileage, and how employees are treated when being asked to travel during the business day. For organizations where business mileage is a regular occurrence, or even a response to a business crisis, employees need to be knowledgeable about the appropriate compensation due.

Philip Gordon, President of The Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association, an experienced employment attorney, and the Managing Partner of the Gordon Law Group, LLP, and Nancy Richards-Stower who won a verdict of approximately $500,000 in a wrongful termination suit for a returning Iraq veteran offered their expertise on this question.

“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. An employer's failure to compensate for all travel time and travel expenses amounts to a failure to pay wages. An employee who proves that his/her employer failed to pay wages, which in this scenario would be the unreimbursed travel expenses, is entitled to recover a mandatory award of treble damages (i.e., three times the amount of unreimbursed travel expenses in dispute), the costs of the litigation, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

In any employee/employer dispute, a thoughtful discussion is always the best place to start. If your friend is not being reimbursed for his travel expenses, he should bring this information to his employers’ attention. Perhaps his employer is not aware of the responsibility, and this new awareness will encourage a change in practice. If an employee believes he/she is owed travel expenses, prior to filing in court, a complaint must be filed with the Fair Labor Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office will authorize you to file your claim with a court after 90 days has elapsed. A court claim must be filed within three years of the first instance of non-payment.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

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