What is Travel Time Pay and How Does it Work?

employee traveling for work symbolising travel time pay

This article will clear up any confusion about what constitutes travel time pay, who’s eligible, and the rules that need to be followed.

What is travel time pay?

Travel time pay is the compensation employees receive for the time they spend traveling outside of their normal work hours as part of their job. This isn’t about the routine commute from home to work.

Instead, it’s about situations where an employee might need to travel to different job sites or attend meetings away from their usual workplace. It’s essential for employers to know when this time counts as payable work hours.

Travel time pay vs. Meal time pay

Travel time pay and meal time pay are distinct forms of employee compensation regulated under U.S. labor laws, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Here's a concise overview of each:

Travel time pay

  • Purpose: Compensates employees for work-related travel not part of their regular commute.

  • Compensability: Includes travel during regular working hours and overnight travel that intersects with normal work hours.

  • Exclusions: Does not cover the regular commute between home and work or personal travel outside work hours.

Meal time pay

  • Purpose: Addresses compensation during meal breaks within work hours.

  • Compensability: Generally unpaid unless the employee is required to perform duties during the meal period.

  • Exclusions: Meal breaks are non-compensable if the employee is completely relieved of duties for typically 30 minutes or more.

Legal basis for travel time compensation

In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the ground rules for travel time pay. This law requires that non-exempt employees — those who qualify for overtime and minimum wage — must be paid for all hours worked.

According to the FLSA, time spent traveling during regular working hours as part of the employee's main job activities should be compensated. This doesn’t include commuting from home to work, but it does cover travel from one job site to another during the day or travel to a location for a special one-time task.

Who is eligible for travel time pay?

Eligibility for travel time pay under U.S. labor laws is mostly about whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt from the wage and hour laws stipulated by the FLSA.

Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay and must be paid for travel time that occurs during their regular working hours. This includes hourly employees who often move between different job sites or are sent on special assignments outside of their regular working environment.

Exempt employees, those who typically receive a salary and are exempt from overtime pay due to their job nature, might not be eligible for additional pay for travel time, depending on the specifics of their roles and hours.

What is the criteria for compensable travel time?

Travel time is compensable when it involves tasks that an employee must perform as part of their work, or during the employee’s regular work hours. This can include travel to and from different job sites within the same workday or unexpected travel required to complete work-related tasks.

The main criteria is that the travel directly pertains to and is necessary for the job, occurring during the employee's regular working hours.

Eligible travel scenarios for compensation

Understanding which travel scenarios are eligible for compensation under U.S. labor laws is crucial for employers to ensure they are compliant and fair. Here are eight detailed scenarios where travel time is typically compensable:

1. Travel between job sites:

When an employee travels between multiple job sites during their regular work hours, this travel time is compensable. For example, an electrician traveling between different homes or commercial buildings to perform installations or repairs during the day should be paid for this travel time.

2. One-time assignments in another city:

If an employee is sent to another city for a one-time assignment, the travel time spent getting to and from the destination is usually compensable. This includes the time spent driving or flying, minus the usual commute time.

3. Client visits during normal hours:

When employees need to travel to meet clients or attend meetings away from their primary workplace during their normal work hours, this time is compensable. For instance, a salesperson driving across town for client meetings during their scheduled workday should be paid for travel time.

4. Overnight travel:

Travel that requires an overnight stay away from the employee’s home community is generally compensable during the employee's normal working hours. This includes time spent traveling to and from the destination city. For example, if an employee usually works from 9 AM to 5 PM, travel time within those hours on an overnight trip should be paid.

5. Emergency calls out of regular hours:

If an employee must travel for emergency work outside of their regular hours, such as a technician called to fix a utility breakdown at night, the travel time is compensable.

6. Training events required by employer:

If attendance at a training event during regular hours requires travel, this time is typically compensable. For example, if an employer requires attendance at a training session that is not held at the usual place of work, the travel time to and from the training location during normal working hours is compensable.

7. Early morning or late night flights:

If travel involves early morning or late-night flights that fall outside of regular working hours but are necessary to reach a business-related destination, these may be compensable depending on the circumstances, like if travel during normal hours is not possible.

8. Travel to a different worksite for short duration:

If an employee is assigned temporarily to a worksite far from their regular location, the travel time more than their normal commute to the regular worksite is typically compensable. For example, if an employee who normally works in a downtown office is assigned for a week to a suburban office, the additional time spent traveling beyond their usual commute time should be paid.

Non-eligible travel scenarios for compensation

There are several travel scenarios where time spent is typically not compensable under U.S. labor laws. Understanding these can help employers avoid unnecessary payments and clarify company policies regarding travel. Here are five scenarios where travel time generally does not require compensation:

1. Regular commute from home to work:

The everyday travel time from an employee's home to their primary workplace is not compensable. This rule applies regardless of whether the employee works at a fixed location or at various locations. For example, a construction worker commuting to different job sites each day would not be paid for the time spent traveling from home to the first site or from the last site back home.

2. Travel from home to work on special one-time occasion:

If an employee is required to report to a job site that is not their regular workplace for a special one-time task and the travel distance is similar to their normal commute, this travel time is generally not compensable. For example, if an employee who normally works in an office downtown is asked to work one day from a client's office across town, the travel time does not need to be compensated if it is similar to their usual commute.

3. Travel as part of a residential move:

If an employee is relocating to another city for work and the company is paying for moving expenses, the time spent by the employee moving their residence is not compensable. This is viewed as personal travel, even though it's related to work.

4. Voluntary training not during regular hours:

When employees choose to attend training sessions or professional development workshops on their own time and such attendance is not required by the employer, the travel time to and from these events is typically not compensable. For instance, if an employee attends a weekend seminar related to their field but not specifically required by their employer, the travel time would not be paid.

How to calculate travel time pay?

manager calculating PTO accrual of employees using laptop and calculator

Calculating travel time pay correctly is essential to ensure fair compensation for employees and compliance with labor laws. Here’s how you can accurately calculate the pay owed to employees for the time they spend traveling for work-related tasks.

Calculation of travel time pay

To calculate travel time pay, you should follow these steps:

  • Determine the employee's pay rate: This is the regular hourly wage the employee earns.

  • Identify compensable travel time: Record the amount of time the employee spends traveling during their normal work hours that does not include their regular commute from home to work.

  • Calculate total payable hours: Multiply the hours of compensable travel by the employee's hourly wage.

Formula: Travel Time Pay=(Number of Hours Spent on Compensable Travel)×(Hourly Wage)Travel Time Pay=(Number of Hours Spent on Compensable Travel)×(Hourly Wage)

For example, if an employee who makes $20 per hour spends 3 hours traveling to different job sites during their normal work hours, the calculation would be:

Travel Time Pay=3 hours×$20/hour=$60Travel Time Pay=3hours×$20/hour=$60

Discuss any mandatory minimums or rates stipulated by law

In the United States, several mandatory minimums and rates are defined under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and must be adhered to when calculating travel time pay:

  • Minimum wage: The federal minimum wage is a baseline; however, some states have higher minimum wages. Employers must pay at least the federal minimum wage for all compensable travel time unless their state's minimum wage is higher.

  • Overtime: If travel time plus regular working hours exceed 40 hours in a week, employers must pay hourly employees overtime at one and a half times the regular rate for the hours over 40.

  • Special rates: Some contracts or state laws might specify higher rates for travel time, especially if traveling involves unusual hardship or is outside of normal working hours.

How to design a policy for travel time compensation?

Creating a clear and comprehensive travel time compensation policy is essential for any organization. This policy not only helps ensure compliance with labor laws but also sets clear expectations for employees regarding their compensation for travel.

Here are five detailed steps to guide you in designing an effective travel time compensation policy:

Step 1. Define compensable travel time:

Clearly outline what qualifies as compensable travel time within your organization. Specify the types of travel that are covered, such as travel between job sites, overnight travel required for work, and travel during an employee’s normal working hours.

Make sure to distinguish between travel that is part of the employee’s daily commute (which is generally not compensable) and travel that is an integral part of the employee’s duties.

Step 2. Establish travel time pay rates:

Determine the pay rates for travel time. Decide if the rate will be the same as the regular hourly rate or if there will be a different rate for travel time. Include details on how to handle overtime pay if the travel time contributes to an employee working more than their standard working hours.

Make sure these rates comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and any relevant state laws.

Step 3. Outline procedures for recording travel time:

Develop and implement a system for employees to record their travel time. This could involve logging their hours in a timekeeping system or filling out a travel time sheet.

Provide clear instructions on how and when to submit these records, ensuring that employees know the importance of accurate and timely reporting to receive appropriate compensation.

Step 4. Communicate the policy to all employees:

Once the policy is developed, communicate it effectively to all employees. This can be done through staff meetings, email distributions, or by posting it on the company’s internal website.

Ensure that every employee understands the policy and knows who to contact if they have any questions or issues related to travel time pay.

Step 5. Review and update the policy regularly:

Laws and business needs change, so it’s important to review your travel time compensation policy regularly—at least annually. This will help ensure that your policy remains compliant with current laws and continues to meet the needs of your organization and its employees.

Be open to feedback from employees about how the policy is working in practice, which could provide valuable insights into any necessary adjustments.

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Travel time pay is a crucial aspect of employee compensation, particularly for non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers must carefully distinguish between compensable and non-compensable travel scenarios to comply with legal standards and maintain fair workplace practices.

By establishing a clear policy that outlines compensable travel, sets appropriate pay rates, and details procedures for recording travel time, organizations can ensure both compliance and clarity for all employees. Regular review and updates of this policy are essential to adapt to any changes in labor laws or organizational needs.

Topic: Pay
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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